The Data Conundrum | AUA Blog

Mehmood Mulla

Business Performance Analyst

The University of Manchester

In higher education, we gather data everyday on so many different things and try to use it to help understand the journey we have been on and the path we are likely to embark on in the future.

There is an obsession to gather as much information as possible about what we do, but I often find that there is little view on what that information is actually telling us and how to communicate this message clearly across an organisation.

 The cycle is constant: we collect, gather and submit.

But do we actually think and analyse what we’ve gathered, before the next data cycle begins? Sure, we get a management report saying what a single collection of data has identified and we move on. This cycle is an epidemic trend.

In my time in higher education, I have been intrigued at how to bring data together effectively, in order to create positive, systemic change. In my role, I want to help develop a richer understanding of what is driving behaviour and identify ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of support services. This idea of bringing data together is not something that can be simply solved by deploying the right software.

Data management is about working together on how we can use data to address key business dilemmas.

There are several questions which spring to mind when thinking about this conundrum in HE, and which can help clarify our perspective before we begin data collection:

  • What data are we collecting?
  • Why are we collecting the data?
  • How do we collect the data?
  • Who will use it?
  • What other data sources can we combine this with?
  • How will we use this data to inform decision making?

The most important aspect of data collection is reflection, both before and after the collection cycle. What are we so afraid of? I often go by the old saying “Honesty is the best policy”, sometimes to my own peril, but I strongly believe that we should follow a creative and collaborative approach to how we collect, analyse and use data in higher education, rather than work in silos who follow the epidemic isolated cycle of collect, gather and submit.

For example, we can look at the size and shape of a particular faculty based on the number of people within it and the costs associated to this. To make this data meaningful, we can break it down to look at this relative to each school and in context of the number of students and the level of income generated. By adding different sources together, we can start to build a multifaceted picture of an organisation with data and use it to spark a discussion and ask poignant questions that can help us reach a higher level of effectiveness and self-awareness.

By working together, we can gain so much more insight into what data is telling us and how to use it to inform strategic decision making.

Indecision is the enemy of starting, so why not check out some helpful articles to ease you into the intricacies of data management?

Here are my top three:

You can also check out these certifications:

Mehmood Mulla is a Business Performance Analyst in the Directorate of Finance at the University of Manchester. When he’s not being a data wiz at UoM, you can find him on LinkedIn, traveling around Europe or enjoying a football match (never misses a Preston North End game!).