QSN Symposium 2023 Reflections

Andrea Vili, Academic Quality Manager (Partnerships) at Global Banking School.

Using data in the HE sector is a movement that has been around in most UK institutions’ discussions at every level of the organisation for quite some time. For most of us, myself included, charts, A3-sized excel sheets, pie-charts, dashboards on a variety of platforms filled with different sets of data seemed rather intimidating at first. At the same time, I was rather curious. Different ways of looking at ‘how are we doing in area X’ means a fundamental shift in terms of perspectives, analysis and interpretation. In relation to my work, Academic Quality and Standards, data and information is something fundamental that enables us to know more and see more. What are we doing well? Where are we lagging behind? Have we successfully implemented X as we were set out to do? What steps do we need to take to improve the efficiency of our procedures? 

At Global Banking School, my first task was to help Senior Faculty members understand and interpret Student Performance data on Power BI dashboards. I could tell from the very beginning that this won’t be just a tick box exercise, but a true learning, un-learning and emotional journey. Reading, understanding, and knowing what different datasets show, questions one’s experience, skills and patience in many ways and at different levels.

What will we use the data for? What level of detail do we want? On what time scale? Are we using the correct terms? Are there any trends we can analyse? Where and what kind of issues did we come across? What is our best intervention method? How about areas we can’t accurately capture? All valid questions to ask and work through. The perfect time and place for the Academic Quality and Standards function to engage, link, support, explain and provide guidance and insight. 

At organisational level, data is becoming an essential tool to make decisions based on past, current and future trends. It enables us to ask the right questions, reflect and better support departments by getting specific answers that bring positive outcomes. It helps us to be more reflective, critical, transparent, and honest, holding up a mirror to the organisation. 

The real power of data here is three-fold: identifying main strategic risks and opportunities of expansion into new markets, implementing successful strategies, and extracting added value from existing partnerships.

This will require staff with relevant knowledge and confidence to drive the institution’s data strategy and procedures to support data-informed decisions. In my role, this will mean creating access, discussions and opportunities for everyone to learn and have a shared understanding of the ways Data is collected, evaluated and linked to specific functions of GBS as an organisation. 

Attending the QSN Symposium ‘It’s Still All About the Data’ was a timely reminder of how important it is for different institutions to come together and share their institution’s journey. Unpacking our challenges was both liberating and encouraging. We really had a lot to take back home I particularly enjoyed Bath Spa University’s session lead by Pearl Slater (Head of Academic Governance and Quality) and Josh Gulrajani (Head of Data and Insights). They provided a comprehensive overview of their two-tiered data-driven approach that was specifically designed to enhance internal and partnership engagement.

Another fundamental aspect of BSU’s journey was bringing institutional awareness to the practical aspects of data management, and their focussed mission to improve data literacy across all departments. Getting actively engaged and lead on data discussions as well as making sure staff members understand the impact and change in reporting structures was key in BSU’s Data Roadshow campus events. 

Getting to know more how regulators’ approach to data shifted was also valuable. A session lead by Jack Smith (Head of Student Outcomes) was an informative summary on how OfS’s approach to B3 monitoring will play an important part in data and providers’ relevant contextual information in their reviews and assessment. 

As we all get better at understanding data platforms, the more confident we will grow in providing the narrative to our decisions and actions. Similarly, data-informed decisions will lead to more insightful discussions and empowers Senior Management to be more adaptive and flexible in the longer run. This is when the mirror will transform into a magnifying glass.

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