UK sector’s data pitfalls must be fixed as “matter of urgency”

 In News

IHEC’s Data Matters in Higher Education report highlights alarming gaps and delays in data in areas like graduate outcomes, student immigration data, education exports and more

Chair Chris Skidmore said the sector should not have to rely on “dipstick third party analysis” to avoid threats to current policy

It posited the idea of not including students who are in the country for only a year or less in net migration figures

The International Higher Education Commission has released a report entitled Data Matters in Higher Education, highlighting concerning pitfalls in how data in the sector is both managed and released.

It accused the UK’s Home Office of essentially withholding information – by rebuffing FOI requests and releasing delayed figures – that should technically be in the public domain, especially around immigration figures.

“It is simply not good enough that we do not know for at least 18 months, and currently it is two years, how many overseas students have been recruited,” said Chris Skidmore, the chair of IHEC, in the report’s foreword.

Skidmore wrote how the MAC review’s positive outcome played out the way it did because of the “data-driven evidence submitted”.

“It was telling that the MAC Chair… said in his conclusion: ‘It really shouldn’t be up to the MAC to have to go around finding out data for the government… that should be business as usual,’” Skidmore said.

“That sums up the huge problem facing us, as it is far from clear that there is a recognition, let alone acceptance… that UK international higher education cannot become sustainable without access to the data and insight necessary to ensure effective positive development and good decision making,” he explained.

The report cited how HESA’s comprehensive data is generally on a systematic one-and-a-half-year lag – currently extended to two years, a fact that it says is essentially unacceptable considering private companies are releasing much more real-time data.

“We should not have to rely on third party dipstick analysis undertaken as a defensive measure to policy threats,” he said.

David Pilsbury, the commission’s secretary, told The PIE News how vital this point was: “Enroly data was crucial in securing the positive MAC outcome but also data about future demand from Studyportals and IDP Connect [are a factor]… it is currently left to individual institutions to decide whether to sign up with these companies and there is no systematic integration with the current data from Enroly or the historic data from HESA.”

Using Australian international enrolments as a case study, it outlines the Home Office’s failings in updating on student visa figures – noting that Australia’s Home Affairs department is updating its PRISMS software as “student visas are granted or cancelled and students enter or leave”, as well as education providers uploading data on offers made to prospective students.

“This has enabled Australia to have almost real-time information on international students entering and leaving the country,” the report said.

Not only does the report look at international student numbers, but also how they are tallied – especially in terms of the net migration figures, on which the Conservative government has based a ban on dependants, the upping of the skilled worker visa salary threshold and even the MAC Review.

We should not have to rely on third party dipstick analysis undertaken as a defensive measure to policy threats

Chris Skidmore

“Net migration statistics should accurately reflect the number of international students who are in the country for longer than one year,” it said, noting that the higher figures for those on master’s degrees would only generally stay for a year due to the length of their course.

To assist with this issue, and others in terms of denoting what type of student is coming in and leaving, the report recommended the acceleration of the Data Futures program, in which in-year collection and reporting of data would be available.

It said that under this program, only those with periods of study exceeding one year should be included in collecting data like the course’s start date, end date, non-continuation and drop-out rates and full-time new student entrants who meet such criteria.

And, it said, only those in that criteria should be included in the net migration numbers.

Graduate outcome data was also a big part of the report – or the lack of it, which has been highlighted before by other organisations.

The graduate outcome survey that is normally issued to graduates after they finish their course was only taken by 18% of graduates in the academic year 2020/21.

“HESA stopped calling international students to save costs; the UK government mandated a 10% efficiency saving for HESA, and telephone follow-up… was a significant expense,” the report said, adding that such a decision was raising concerns among both institutions and student bodies.

Low response rates also mean a lack of evidence of the employability of the UK’s international students, it posited – a critical decision-making factor for students who are looking to the UK as a study destination.

“We need to have really good information about what students really go onto do – and where they end up – the current pathetic response rates are not a basis on which anyone should be making decisions,” Pilsbury added.

On the issue of international education exports, IHEC again said that Australia’s approach would be a good one to follow, “consolidating all education exports into a single category” instead of education-related travel expenses (tuition fees and living expenses) and non-travel related education service exports (TNE provision).

The ONS reports on education exports are also not doing enough to expose the economic contribution of higher education to the UK economy, the report also noted.

The post UK sector’s data pitfalls must be fixed as “matter of urgency” appeared first on The PIE News.

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt