QSN 2023 Symposium: It’s still all about the data

Alexandra Wooster, Faculty Business Manager at King’s College London

It was a great opportunity to attend this Symposium and to hear from colleagues about the ‘marrying of data and quality’. The presentations were very insightful, not only to hear first-hand about the wonderful data projects that colleagues are implementing in different institutions, but to see the evidence in how processes that are underpinned by data (but not all about the data!) are evolving in the sector. 

As the Higher Education (HE) sector, and in fact the rest of the world, continue to use data to fuel innovation, it is important to harness the power of data but not let it take complete focus and over complicate things. It was great to see discussions reflecting this attitude at the Symposium, where championing the development of holistic processes that have room to incorporate qualitative information, as well as the vast amount of quantitative data available, was showcased.

There was a lot of reflection on transparency of data, and how this affects both academic and senior management buy-in when using it to make a case for wider strategic objectives. One of the biggest challenges in this sector appears to be about breaking cultural change around data and its uses. For most, processes have been gradually moving online for a while, but moving from static data usage to live continuous data availability is somewhat new to a lot of institutions. We heard from colleagues at the Symposium about the many benefits to this move, for example how it allows for more granular conversations resulting in timely decision-making and problem-solving. 

For this to continue to happen we need to trust the data we are seeing. If data dashboards are using live data, then we have the single source of truth, but where the mistrust appears to come from is when there is more than source of data that displays information that conflicting information. Breaking the barrier and changing the culture, means that institutions need to invest in university level projects that effectively map their systems and data integrations so they can be sure of where and how their data is used and presented.

I used to think that a magical piece of software could be developed that supports all university software systems to allow them to fluently ‘talk’ to each other and can be configured to support data outputs from the information contained within these systems. I have since become more aware that it is the teams and processes that support the use of these systems that could be the key to building the missing trust.


Institutions need teams that understand who the stakeholders to their systems are so that projects can be scoped with the best available knowledge of the effects of project outcomes. Institutions need processes and people who understand what the institutions currently have so that when data usage projects are being developed, old information is taken away. Institutions need large investment of time and money to grow larger teams who can support a strategic imperative to clean up the data available so that its data users can learn to trust what is there.

I am yet to learn of an institution that has reached a point where all data systems integrate well and give all stakeholders the information and reports they need, most are currently scoping large digital transformation projects to achieve something like this but staff I have spoken to have no idea who is involved or how this will work. This lack of knowledge across institutions will feed into the mistrust, regular communications about the progress on these projects could be vital to gaining the trust, motivation and buy-in needed to propel these projects forward. 

And what about data literacy?

Particularly in the HE sector, it is recognised that not everybody can read numbers and the need for data users to understand what is being presented to them is vital for institutional growth. The future of data in this sector will likely see an increase in data use to capture and predict important trends, I feel it is therefore vital that our sector looks at organisational development opportunities to help staff better understand data metrics and data sources used within institutions. It was great to hear some examples of how colleagues were championing data roadshows within their respective institutions to enable understanding of their data initiatives. 

And what of our students?

Data already affects how they see our institutions in rankings across the world, and so the future of our data is equally as important to them. Our efforts in getting our data usage and analytics correct, and reviewed regularly within our ever-evolving sector, is vital to ensuring we understand our students and give them the experience they are expecting. This supports the point earlier of ensuring that we, as institutions, are ensuring that our data is ‘live’ because it will enable us to make more informed and timely strategic decisions regarding the future of modules, courses, processes and more, that will benefit our students sooner.

Within my role as Faculty Business Manager, I am responsible for ensuring processes are fit for purpose, are efficient and underpinned by quality data. This Symposium was of particular interest to me because I wanted to learn more about what other colleagues have been working on to give me an insight into what I can work on moving forward. The roundtable particularly gave me some ideas of what does and does not work within business areas. In the last decade, and even more so since the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in the urgency for institutions to make better use of data and analytics. It could even be said that there is too much data available, and so next stage of our data maturity needs to focus on harnessing the data we have, so that we can provide insights that can really transform the services we deliver to our staff and student communities. This knowledge will allow me to give my projects the focus they need to achieve this. 

Overall, I would say that the Symposium was a great success, the take-homes for me are some new tools and ideas for reviewing processes that are underpinned by data, and ways to ensure that data has a two-tiered approach that serves both wider strategic objectives and not just compliance needs. I would recommend events such as these to cover many of the AHEP professional behaviours but for me, ‘finding solutions’ and ‘using resources effectively’, were key to this event. It was lovely to be in an in-person event, and to meet some new faces. 

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