Data driven decision making | AUA Blog

Data driven decision making: why building data capabilities in Higher Education is key

In recent years data has pushed its way to the top of the higher education agenda. Unistats and the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) are prime examples of data at the forefront of quality and regulation.


Jennie Walmsley MAUA
Data and Research Officer


Paul Hazell
Evaluation and Analytics Manager



HESA’s Data Futures programme promises us timelier information, while the Office for Student’s regulatory framework is all about data to drive decisions and understand the sector and institutions.

Now more than ever both academic and professional services staff who ‘don’t do data’ are seeing data governance and data capability become hot topics in their institutions.  Dashboards are being developed, left and right, blinding people with figures, traffic light ratings and indicators of performance.

But how do we support colleagues to interpret the data that is in front of them?  How can we shatter the illusion that you need to know maths and statistics to be able to have confident conversations about what data tell us – and to react accordingly?

Making sense of the data

We believe it’s the ability to think critically and ask questions that’s important. As ever, it’s the wider perspective and understanding that comes from all of our experiences that helps brings concepts that, on the face of it, may be scary.

Let us illustrate that. We’ve found it helps to personalise data and numbers. For us, that’s cycling. It turns out that cycling time trials and the TEF have a lot in common.  Both use benchmarking to ensure fair comparisons and controlling for factors that our outside our influence.

At the 2019 AUA conference we will deliver a session titled ‘Data in Higher Education: an introduction’. It will help to build your confidence in numbers and counting; understanding data about higher education and get to grips with benchmarks and performance indicators. We will also introduce you to the TEF and subject TEF. While the intricacies and detail of subject TEF will be beyond us in an hour, we’ll introduce you to the TEF’s principles.

Our session is interactive and will (hopefully) be enjoyable. We’ll ask you to count things and make sense of data dashboards. Some of you may have been given data or dashboards and told to go away and use them. That can be overwhelming. We will provide you with the basic skills to critically appraise the data and answer questions such as ‘what does it all mean?’  ‘why are the student numbers different to what I am expecting?’ and ‘is it better if the line goes up or down?’.

We look forward to seeing you on 16 April. Do come along to our session. Together, we can make sense of data.

Paul and Jennie will be delivering their session at Working Session Three at Conference 2019 on 16 April.


Leave a Reply

0 comments on “Data driven decision making | AUA Blog