Using HEIDI Data

I’ve recently been given a password for HEIDI. This is the system used to interrogate HESA data in detail, and for someone like me then there’s lots of things to experiment with.


By Shervinafshar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

I  can already see some great uses though, to support my work:

  • predicting our league table performance
  • benchmarking our subject areas against comparators, in terms of size and performance
  • investigating BME performance across the sector, so we can compare and benchmark

Here’s a few headlines I managed to generate in a short time, using the 2012-13 HESA student record:

(all data presented in this blog post was derived from HEIDI. Intellectual property rights in material generated by heidi rests with HESA and/or other Data Originators)

In terms of 1sts and 2(i)s, which we know is an area where we are lower than much of the sector, then we can see that the number of good degrees we awarded last year rose from 55% to 57.5%, against an average sector rise of 2.2%. This agrees with the internal data we have previously generated. Overall, 119 institutions saw a rise in the number of good degrees and 33 saw a drop. In terms of league tables then, this rise may have minimal impact (although I have used a wider range of HEIs in this analysis than the league table compilers would).

Benchmarking against comparators at subject level is another area in which we can develop more business intelligence, especially in terms of linking to portfolio performance and then to student and league table outcomes.  For instance, some data for Law is shown below:

2012-13 2011-12 2012-13
Institution enrolment percentage good degrees, Law percentage good degrees, Law
Birmingham City University 962 52% 52%
The University of Central Lancashire 942 57% 60%
Coventry University 866 56% 57%
University of Derby 470 59% 65%
Glynd?r University 21 .. ..
The University of Huddersfield 631 31% 43%
The University of Keele 475 61% 63%
Liverpool John Moores University 1,279 64% 72%
The University of Plymouth 735 52% 54%
Staffordshire University 843 57% 59%
The University of Sunderland 422 51% 45%
Teesside University 469 44% 55%
The University of Wolverhampton 1,178 41% 34%

Attainment of Black and Minority Ethnic students is another key area in which I work. Using HEIDI, I can extract the same data that the Equality Challenge Unit provide in their statistical reports – we can just get it more quickly this way.

For instance, I can now look at degree attainment of students  by different ethnicity  for us and our usual comparator universities.

It’s going to be a case of “watch this space”, as I can now develop more sophisticated datasets and visualisations. However, this doesn’t detract from the fact that having the data as just one small part of the jigsaw. The commitment to deliver our academic strategy, and its focus on attainment, means that we know where we are positioned now, we know where we should be so the hard work is in developing the right interventions to make sure that we have a portfolio of awards that delivers for us as an institution and for our individual students

Unfinished Business?: Higher education legislation

In this report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (whose remit is to identify important policy issues in higher education), Nick Hillman, former advisor to David Willetts, examines the need for changes to higher education regulation, to deliver a level playing field.


From the HEPI website
Commenting on his first Hepi report, Unfinished Business? Higher education legislation, the new Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), Nick Hillman, said:
“The Coalition promised a level playing field for all higher education providers. But that has not happened. Critical features of English higher education are different depending on the type of provider. They include fees and loans, the treatment of international students, VAT, degree-awarding powers and student complaints. In place of a level playing field, we have an unkempt meadow.
“There is still a case to be made for having the same rules for different providers. There is also a case to be made for an equitable, rather than equal, system with risk-based differences. But the case for maintaining the messy status quo is not nearly as strong.
“Political parties need to say whether they will support a new legal framework for higher education. The answer may not affect their short-term electoral fortunes but it will affect the educational fortunes of students, as well as the long-term reputation of our higher education sector.”
Hillman recognises that there is little to be gained electorally for any political party in supporting changes to HE regulation as part of their campaigning in the next election.
Acknowledging the current state of the HE market, Hillman identifies 8 pinch points that must be addressed when asking the following questions about the future of HE in the UK:
  • What exactly are the differences in the regulation of HEFCE-funded providers and alternative providers?
  • Which elements of the current regime that apply to HEFCE-funded providers should be spread to others – and vice versa?
  • What differences should there be between insitutions with their own degree-awarding powers and others?
  • Is a level playing field still desirable and what would it look like in practice?

1. Tuition fee loans

A key question for policymakers is whether to continue

maintaining the differential in tuition fee loans, but not

maintenance loans or maintenance grants, according to

whether the institution is funded by HEFCE or not. The current rules run counter to the concept of a level playing field, although they also suggest it is possible for the alternative sector to grow rapidly even while their students are entitled to a smaller tuition fee loan than HEFCE-funded providers


2.Tuition fee caps

The current position has emerged as a consequence of

more thought being applied to the HEFCE-funded sector than to alternative providers, which have nonetheless grown considerably since the two-tier fees cap regime was legislated for in the Higher Education Act (2004). Each of the three options would have a different impact on the future diversity of the sector and it is time for a more conscious decision on what fee cap, if any, should apply to alternative providers


3. Research funding

Although not all private providers are interested in being involved in research, some such as Buckingham ( a not for profit) have expressed interest in being able to access this HEFCE funding stream. However, currently institutions cannot pick and choose which bits of HEFCE funding and regulation they wish to sign up to.

4. Renewal of degree-awarding powers

In the absence of legislation, alternative providers will

continue to face more onerous duties in maintaining their

degree-awarding powers than other institutions. Given their

greater likelihood of a change in ownership, this may be

appropriate. But it is another important area where a level

playing field was promised but has disappeared by default

rather than as the result of a conscious decision.


5. Working rights of international students

Recent changes in migration regulation have tightened the rules applied to international students particularly at private providers to remove bogus institutions from the HE ecosystem and protect the very good work that UK HE does in this area and its reputation.

The Coalition is committed to educational exports and a

diverse higher education sector but their migration policies are a barrier to both. Some believe the Government could lose if legal action were brought by alternative providers opposing their differential treatment on students’ working rights. So the current situation may prove unsustainable even without premeditated Government action

6. VAT exemptions

For profit HE providers are generally liable for VAT, many other providers who receive funding from HEFCE are not

‘It is difficult to see how the Government can

effectively open up the higher education sector to competition from for-profit providers without levelling the VAT playing field’


7. External degrees

A anomaly exits in terms of the student support that can be accessed , when a student is taking an external award at a different Inquisition – student support is available depending on the nature of the teaching institution. This means that a student studying an award, franchised from an awarding university, but delivered in an FE college would receive student support, but the same student studying the same award in a private college could not access support.

The report notes:

When there is a looser relationship between a
teaching institution and an examination body than in the usual franchising and validating arrangements between alternative providers and universities, there can be an explosion in student numbers and questions are raised about quality control.


8. Office of the independent adjudicator

The report notes that some students are protected better than others.

• HE in FE students have different access to the OIA

depending on the precise franchise arrangements of

different universities;

• students at overseas campuses of English and Welsh

institutions are not always covered; and

• students studying at colleges with Foundation Degree

awarding powers are not covered.

Also international students are more likely to use the services of the OIA, and international students are more likely to attend private providers.


Against each of the 8 pinch points, Hillman identifies how each of the different forms of regulation apply to different types of providers, and how this lack of consistency of application of regulation and practice means that there is not a true level playing field for HE providers.

Hillman concludes with reiterating the view that although this is not electorally significant, it is a subject that needs to be tackled by government because it “will affect the educational fortunes of thousands of students and the long term reputation of the UK’s higher education sector”.


The Student Deal

A new publication this week from PA Consulting, “The Student Deal” provides thoughts on looking beyond student experience and proposing a deal that engages students, providers and governments. I’m late to the party on this one – Registrarism has already blogged about it here, but I’ll add my thoughts and how this approach should be considered by a non-elite university.

PA recognise that HE is an international buyers market, but question the usefulness of “student experience”, as currently defined, as a useful metric:

“This preoccupation with student experience metrics and satisfaction has been strongly encouraged by Government and features heavily in composite university league tables….

Most current approaches to student experience reify the notion of the student -as-customer and apply quasi-commercial customer service approaches to the transactional aspects of student-provider relations.

This is apparent in the structure of the National Student Survey (NSS), which unwittingly invites comparisons between the ‘student journey’ and the elements of a packaged holiday, with the NSS akin to the TripAdvisor of higher education.”

However PA contend that  the language of the student-as-customers neglects the essential mutual commitment between students and universities and instead propose a multifaceted student deal.

Students study for a variety of reasons, and not just to consume educational and related services, they are instead investing in a relationship that they  hope will enhance the rest of their lives, and so need to be concerned with the benefits of developing a relationship with a particular university which goes beyond the subject material that they study.

PA recognise that a number of universities are trying to tackle this through the idea of graduate attributes – the Staffordshire Graduate would be a good example of this. This is in recognition of the fact that employers want to recruit people with T-shaped attributes – a blend of vertical knowledge and horizontal capabilities.

The challenge therefore for universities is how to provide the context and resources for students to develop into T-shaped people, providing a “rich, multifaceted and joined-up portfolio of co-curricular and extra-curricular learning experiences. Such experiences demand at least as much from the students as from academic and other staff, with learning outcomes as co-produced goals.”

PA propose the following 4 core essentials, which I have then mapped against our SG attributes to see how well they match:

PA Core Outcomes Staffordshire Graduate Attributes
Mastery of discipline based knowledge Discipline Expert

  • Have an understanding of the forefront of knowledge in your chosen field


Expertise in applying knowledge and skills Reflective & Critical

  • Have the ability to carry out inquiry-based learning and critical analysis
  • Be a problem solver and creator of opportunities


Growth in personal effectiveness Professional

  • Be prepared to be work-ready and employable, and understand the importance of being enterprising and entrepreneurial


Improved career and life opportunities Global Citizen

  • Have an understanding of global issues – and their place in a globalised economy

Communication & Teamwork

  • Be an effective communicator and presenter – and be able to interact appropriately and confidently with a range of colleagues
  • Have developed the skills of independence of thought and, where appropriate, social interaction through teamwork

Life Long Learner

  • Be technologically, digitally and information literate
  • Be able to apply Staffordshire Graduate attributes to a range of life experiences – to facilitate life-long learning and life-long success




Our own graduate attributes do seem to map well at this point, but there is more work we could possibly do in future to ensure that they become more embedded in the student deal, that the attributes are very clearly related to outcomes and that our students can articulate clearly what the attributes mean for them.

The diagram below from PA shows how they interpret the 4 facets of the proposed student deal.

pa student deal 1

The report goes on to point out that the Student Deal relies on meeting the ambitions of individuals with the resources and personalised support available through institutions. I believe this creates the challenge for  a university such as ours – it’s relatively easy to develop a set of Graduate Attributes, and work out how to assess them, for “traditional” full time undergraduates on 3 year programmes, but as the report highlights:

“A student journey and set of experiences designed for young, full-time, campus-based students is unlikely to work for older, part-time and home or work-based learners. Such students have much clearer views of what they seek from engagement in higher learning, and much stronger expectations of sharing as equals in the design and experience of a fulfilling Student Deal.

Given the limited growth foreseen in the traditional full-time undergraduate cohort (at least for the next few years), this has profound implications for universities’ and other providers’ responses to the emerging buyers’ market for their business”

So since one size will not fit all, universities will have to tailor their student deals to the diversity of markets in which they operate.

“This differentiation must extend to every aspect of the deal, from the design and delivery of learning materials, to the ways in which learners can engage with tutors and peers, to the co- and extra-curricular experiences provided as part of the provider’s offer.”

The fundamentally conservative nature of university operating procedures, and the obsession with 3 year undergraduate programmes does make it difficult to move out of current entrenched silos. PA suggest looking at Business Schools for ideas – they frequently have a more diverse student population. This is definitely the case for us.

The student deal, as proposed, is about a two way commitment between learners and providers – this explicit deal is proposed to ensure that students do take advantage of all opportunities, eg placements, volunteering and other extra curricular activity.

PA conclude with this diagram, showing how they think that a student deal, rather than the existing metrics on student experience, provide better information for all stakeholders, and will enable people to make better choices in future.

pa student deal 2

Overall, a report worth reading – as we move into a market that is going to be ever more stratified, and where differentiation will be increasingly important, finding new ways of expressing what we offer to potential students and other stakeholders will become increasingly important. The criticisms of NSS and its associated metrics, and links to KIS have been well articulated elsewhere. This is a set of ideas that might help to provide more meaningful information and lead to enhanced student outcomes.


Teaching and Learning on the Campus of Tomorrow

As Staffordshire University, and plenty of other institutions, press ahead with estates plans to redevelop their physical estate, this seems  a good time to take stock of what a university of the future might look like.

There have been plenty of apocalyptic visions of the future- for instance “An Avalanche is Coming“, the prediction of only a small number of universities existing world wide and all the predictions of technology led disruptions. Many of these have previously been reported on, dismissively, on this blog.

This article tries to look at some recent publications and ideas, and then links these to what the student of the future might look like, , how that student might want to learn in future, what this means for how we teach and what it means for campuses.

Since the beginning of universities, we have operated on the principle of “the sage on the stage”, and despite increases in student centred learning, small group working etc, this model is still prevalent and in part drives the way in which we timetable teaching and interactions between staff and students and our buildings. Thre’s not a huge difference between the 14th Century and the 21st, as these pictures show:





Universities of The Future – some scenarios

A recent publication “Living and Learning in 2034, A Higher Education Futures Project” by University Alliance and Unite Group looks at a possibly dystopian future for HE and what students of the future might want. Since Unite are a property services company, who provide student accommodation, clearly they have a significant interest in how students will study in future.

This publication tries to carry out some scenario planning 20 years into the future, and identifies 10 trends to shape learning in the UK:

A shift in the global economy
Continued to change to public funding for HE
Demographic Change
Ongoing impacts of the financial crisis
stakeholder expectations
Technological Change
Access to information
Climate change
Megacities and local communities

A range of universities is proposed in the report as follows:

unite - ecosystem


Any university be able to look at his and decide which sectors they can see themselves operating in.

Four scenarios are proposed for the future, with ideas about the implications for future living and learning: (all taken from report, not modified)

Scenario One: Living WellReturn to economic growth and collaborative society UK industry is world-leading.• Careers may be considered early on in life, but with a broader scope of flexibility and innovation.• Employers form long-term relationships with universities and seek graduates with many skills and qualifications.

• University seen as a necessary rite of passage to create innovative and collaborative graduates.

• Students have room to explore, but not to be complacent. They look for productive spaces and convenience so they are not bogged down by irrelevant issues.

• Accommodation is energy efficient as a matter of course. It is also expected to include a full range of digital connectivity.

There are many opportunities for both students and academics to collaborate internationally with other institutions.

• Overseas student numbers have increased, keen on physically attending UK universities in order to capitalise on a wealth of opportunities and connections.

• Postgraduate enrolment becomes the norm an increases significantly.

Scenario Two: Community CentreSustained Economic Stagnation and Collaborative Society Learning is rationed and the need to keep costs down is key, while meeting economic priorities.• Part-time learning combined with employment becomes a norm.• Full-time students do not expect to be guaranteed accommodation and more will be living at home to manage costs.

• Students will seek new ways to find success. Social entrepreneurial spirit becomes more of a norm and community initiatives allow many of these ideas to thrive.

UK businesses still have skills, expertise and relationships, but they have become nervous and risk averse. However they play a big role

in working with government to determine the type of skills needed in the economy.

• Unemployment has risen, but so has voluntarism. Communities are strong and people get involved in a wide range of local projects. Local initiatives such as trading schemes, co-operatives and credit unions are on the rise.

• Government has limited funds to invest in infrastructure and cities are suffering as a result.

• Public skills development programmes are popular but there aren’t enough jobs. The most talented choose to leave the UK to find work.

• Full-time student numbers are lower, but significant numbers still study.

• The student accommodation market is changing and the wise players

diversified a decade ago to take advantage of a broader range of market opportunities.

Scenario Three: Digital IslandsStagnating economy and competitive society Students will look to local universities for cost-effective training toward a chosen career. Expectations are for a quick turnaround, with more full-time degrees being delivered in 18 months.• The ‘student experience’ is utilitarian. Students are seeking a route to employment and they engage in activities with direct and tangible benefits.• Inequality between those in ‘elite’ institutions and those in local universities is pronounced. There are fewer universities; many institutions have merged.

• Curricula have narrowed and there is less scope for non-applied subjects. Full-time degrees are delivered in 18 months.

• There is little optimism in Britain. Personal debt has increased, pensions have decreased and jobs are not well paid. Britain’s industrial base is significantly weakened.

• Consumer choice is driven by necessity and price. Consumption is efficient.

• Business is short-termist. Training and education are regarded as a cost rather than an investment. There is little or no innovation.

• HE’s purpose is training for employment. Local employers commission courses from FE/HE partnerships according to workforce needs.

• Students from the cities favour going to their local universities and demand for accommodation has fallen.

• Postgraduate education has declined.

• There is little differentiation of accommodation by quality or service; basic property management is all that is required to be a provider.

• Uncertainty and reactivity can create fluctuations in student numbers

year on year. As such, successful accommodation providers have the flexibility to expand or reduce capacity as required.

Scenario Four: Whatiwant.comGrowing economy and a competitive society Students demand many different ways to interact and meet their learning needs.• Specialisation is common, but with individual student interests in mind.• Education is part of a much bigger picture for many students. The old accusations of lazy students are practically forgotten now. Total

downtime is rare and most activities have good reason and vested interests behind them.

• Digital technologies are integrated into everyday life. Fast and reliable access is taken for granted.

• All-in-one packages with inclusive services are favoured to help save both time and money.

• Students are keen to find the best experience and quality of teaching possible. Some are willing to pay more if they consider it a useful investment for their future.

• Accommodation varies in price, but is always well serviced. For those who can afford it, exclusive features and luxury space can be purchased at a premium.

From this kind of scenario planning, and linking this to what we actually know about our economy and institution, we can start to consider what we need to offer in terns of learning and teaching in the future – proactively developing our offer.

Learning and Teaching of Tomorrow

We already seen the reports from Graham Gibbs and many others saying that the lecture s dead. We’ve also read the predictions that MOOCs will change the world as we know it.

Thankfully there’s been a move away from the hyperbolic or hysterical news stories in recent months, with a more measured understanding appearing of how we can use technology and adapt learning and teaching practice to provide better outcomes.

In this article from InsideHigherEd, by Pamela Barnett, a critique is given of teh current trend for the “flipped classroom” and an explanation of why some lectures are still needed, but that an approach that she describes as “scrambled” is the most apprpriate. I think many of this will recognse this as “blended learning”, so nothing necessarily new, but its useful to see a clear critique of the flipped classroom concept, which is as rigidly defined as teh old didactic model.

Even Anant Agarwal (founder of EdX) acknowledges in this TED talk of the real benefit of using a MOOC to support blended learning (and in doing so identifies a possible revenue stream). He rightly recognises the need for us to understand the technological savvy of our students and a need for us to embrace this and to ensure learning is embedded through technology in students’ lives. Agarwal talks of re-imagining education, moving away from lecture theatres, to e-spaces, t using tablets, moving away from actual dormitories to digital dormitories.

Possible Impacts for Us

In a MOOC that I took on Surviving Disruptive Technologies, I looked at the near term future of a university and the impact that the use of educational technology, including MOOCs would have. I considered the type of students we might recruit in the future, how they may not want to bear the cost of studying on campus for three years and how this would affect estates, technology etc.(A copy of my assigner is available on request!)

When I look at my ideas again, in the light of the scenarios presented by University Alliance and Unite Group, and the ability for technology to lay a major part n how we deliver education of the future, I would suggest the following:

  • We identify what kind of university we want to be, and how in each of the scenarios we would need to operate.The potential change is much broader than the change to learning and teaching practice. It could have an impact on the patterns of learning that students engage with, and this would have a dramatic effect on the shape of a future campus. This goes beyond teaching accommodation. What do we need to do about student residence? Sports? Social facilities? Staff offices?
  • We look at the ways in which we plan to deliver learning and teaching in 5 years time, supported by technology, and in response to the possible kinds of students we will attract
  • We understand how we need to change and stop some of our current learning and teaching practices
  • We consider what the University should physically look like in the future.

This has been a bit of a future-gazing article. I don;t pretend to have the answers, but I’ll be working with my networks in the University and outside to start thinking of ways to develop some of this thinking. My first action is a now regular meeting with the Deputy Director in Information Services where we will be assessing the impact of new and near to market technologies to support learning and teaching.



Some HESA Statistics

One of the joys of working in an organisation that is public sector (actually that’s a definitional can of worms that I’m not going to open in this post) is that plenty of data exists which is publicly available for anyone to read, both about the sector, and about individual institutions. Even without creating your own detailed reports, a quick view of the sector can be gained from the statistics that appear on the front page of the HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) website and in their iPhone app (yes, really!). a simple cut and paste into Excel and we can produce some simple headlines and compare individual institutions to either the overall sector to to a range of comparators or competitors.

Anyway, the most recent student and staff records have been added for the 2012-13 academic year, and we could use these to identify how we compare, and with a little bit of work, how we might perform in the next round of league tables.

Student Population

Over the last 5 years we’ve seen dramatic changes to the funding of HE, the shift in burden of fees and loans to the individual rather than the state, and changes to visas for overseas students.

The overall population has changed as follows:

sector student pop

showing a slight dip in the last year, although UCAS data would imply this may rise this year.

For us we see a decline in numbers overall:

su student pop

Looking in more detail at the undergraduate population for the sector as a whole:

sector student mode

We see that full tine numbers have an overall upward trend, but as has been highlighted many times by the sector’s mission groups, part time numbers are decreasing, and the policies for funding part time students have not been updated or considered to the same degree as those for full time students. There is untapped human potential here – and untapped markets for the universities that can get the right kind of part time offer.

For us the picture is not dissimilar, although we had previously significant growth in part time which was not replicated across the sector

su student mode

Academic Staffing

If we look at the staffing in higher education, across the sector the main change is the decrease in the number of non academic roles compared to academic. The overall number of academic posts has grown, with little change in number of part time roles.

sector staff popsector staff mode


Looking at our own institution, we see a similar trend in the balance of academic and non academic roles, but a noticeable difference in the balance between part time and full time academic posts.

su staff popsu staff mode


In conclusion, we can get an overview of any institution from this very publicly available data. To make more sense of it, and to go behind the headlines and reach a deeper meaning involves looking at what sits beyond the front page of the HESA website.

Those of us with HEIDI accounts can easily start to look in detail at all sorts of things – how subject areas are growing or declining compared with other universities or the sector as a whole; how well students achieve in different institutions; how well subject areas in individual institution compare in recruiting students locally, nationally or internationally.

I’m already linking this kind of information to very detailed internal portfolio performance data (which would only be available internal to an organisation since it contains materials protected under the Data Protection Act) for one of our faculties to develop some sophisticated pointers of how to develop their academic award portfolio.




Leadership – should you be like Cnut?

After Gordon Tredgold’s talk at the University recently, I have been struck by the number of colleagues who attended, who have really enagaed with his approach, FAST – focus, accountable, simple and transparent. it’s great to be working with people who taken this on board and there have been lots of comments and conversations on Twitter and a lot of follow-up activity. So here’s my contribution – lead like Cnut.




Cnut (also known as Canute) was a king of England in 1016 and King of Denmark in 1018 If history had been slightly different he could have laid the foundations of a major English – Scandinavian alliance, but for his sons dying early and those pesky Normans invading England.

Wikipedia states:

Henry of Huntingdon, the 12th-century chronicler, tells how Cnut set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.’ He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again “to the honour of God the almighty King”.[95] This incident is usually misrepresented by popular commentators and politicians as an example of Cnut’s arrogance.


If I chose to willfully misunderstand the story or myth, I’d be writing to say that as leaders we can operate in such a way that ignores the environment in which we are in, and blithely carry on, thinking that we know better. Some of the big challenges that face all universities are: the neo-liberal funding regime; the current debate on immigration; the changes in technology for learning and teaching; the accessibility of open data to make judgments about institutions by students and other stakeholder and the rising tide of social media that cannot be stopped but must be harnessed, to name but a few..

But to represent Cnut correctly, he is aware of the ” tide in the affairs of men”, and recognises he has to respond, and sharpish.

Leadership is being able to recognise those tides, the changes and the challenges “which taken at the flood, lead on to fortune”.

Linking this back to Gordon –

Can we identify exactly what our focus should be in a rapidly changing environment? Cnut knew – it was to recognise the greater forces around him and to respond quickly.

Leaders need to hold themselves accountable. Cnut knew he had to take responsibility and get out of the way, but more importantly he had to show his courtiers, his team, that he was able to move and make a change in response to his environment..

Can we make our message about how we are dealing with complex changes, simple and easy to understand? Cnut made his point, but his legacy is of being misunderstood – maybe he needed to do a bit more on the messaging front.

Are we being transparent about what we are doing?  If we are focused on the right things, people will become more motivated, especially if we can ensure that the attractiveness of success is greater than the resistance to change. Resistance to change for Cnut meant getting wet feet. Cnut wanted his team to focus on moving quickly from the incoming tide and  to show that we need to respond to our environment.

I’m fully aware of the running joke in this piece – it’s deliberate. You’ll remember it better this way.


Planning work on BME Student Attainment

This year, I’ll be leading some work across the institution to challenge the degree attainment of students in different subject areas – we know that there is a wide difference in the number of good degrees awarded from subject to subject, and that this has an impact on student success after graduation and ultimately on university league table position.

When I look into the data on student success in more detail, we start to see other startling patterns. The one which stands out the most is the difference in attainment between white students and BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) students. This isn’t a situation unique to Staffordshire University, as can be seen in the statistical releases from the Equality Challenge Unit.


However, I am committed to tackling this issue head on within our university – driven by a commitment to social justice and an ability to “do the numbers””.

I fully accept that this is going to mean some difficult conversations, and already I’ve had some challenges when I’ve talked about this in faculties. It will also mean some significant learn for me, and a preparedness for many of us to talk about things that make us uncomfortable (or instance – do you know the difference between race and ethnicity? Or should you use the term BME?)

Reading the plan for the Equality Challenge Unit, I’m going to shamelessly copy the four strands of their strategy, and to adapt it to our own needs:

“Illuminate – Provide quantitative and qualitative evidence on equality and diversity within UK HEIs and colleges in Scotland to illuminate equality and diversity challenges in these sectors.

Articulate – Work collaboratively with and assist external bodies on equality and diversity matters that impact on UK HEIs and colleges in Scotland.

Champion – Develop the case for equality and diversity to secure and maintain the commitment and support of institutional leaders.

Transform – Work with all institutions to identify and change any cultural and systemic practices that unfairly exclude, marginalise or disadvantage individuals or groups, and to promote inclusive approaches.

– See more at:”


For us at Staffordshire, my initial thoughts are:

Illuninate – identify through our own data sets the levels of attainment of different groups of students, based on characteristic such a ethnicity, gender, disability and age. Compare with national trends to identify which specific areas we need to work on

Articulate – work collaboratively with a group drawn from across faculties and services and the Students’ Union (I’m delighted that Rochelle, our SU President, wants to be involved) to develop a shared understanding and message for the institution, together with practical steps that can be taken

Champion – develop a range of actions and measurable targets that can be tested through processes such as Annual Monitoring and Quarterly Business Reviews, to ensure commitment at the highest level

Transform – promote inclusive practices across the institution, related to recruitment, teaching and learning,assessment, personal tutoring, data analytics etc.

I don;t expect this to  be an easy journey, but it’s the right one to take. To provide some more background and some inspiration, we’ve got a great speaker, Dr Winston Morgan of UEL, to come and talk about the attainment gap at this year’s Staff Fest Learning and Teaching Conference.

Funding for higher education in England for 2014-15

After a long wait, and some “interesting” photos on Twitter, the annual letter from BIS to HEFCE has finally seen the light of dawn, delayed after the unexpected news of changes to student number controls in the Autumn Statement.


From the HEFCE website:

The settlement will mean reductions in HEFCE funding for higher education institutions in 2014-15 and again in 2015-16 beyond those accounted for by the switch to publicly funded tuition fees. The Government has asked HEFCE to deliver the reductions in ways which protect as far as possible high-cost subjects (including STEM), widening participation (which is funded via the HEFCE Student Opportunity allocation), and small and specialist institutions.

Universities UK have commented, saying:

Funding for the Autumn Statement policy announcement, and for science and research more generally, will continue to be protected, while HEFCE has been asked to develop the mechanisms to ensure that cuts in funding don’t translate directly into deterioration of the student experience.

This is not an easy trick to pull off. All parts of the public sector are being asked to deliver more with reduced funding, and the university sector is no exception. The flagship policy of removing the cap on student numbers is the right one – both for individuals and for the economy. But it will be challenging to deliver in the face of continuing restrictions on income and cuts to direct grant funding.


Universities are adapting well to this new policy framework, but navigating the transitional period before a return to growth remains a significant challenge. The risk remains that further cuts will undermine the ability of the sector to continue delivering on important economic and social goals, and the basis for future growth will be eroded. We all have a strong stake in ensuring that situation doesn’t come about

From the actual letter from BIS we see:

“However, in the context of stretched public finances, it has been necessary to make reductions to the indicative recurrent teaching budget for 14-15. Further recurrent savings will be required in 15-16. It is for you to take decisions on how you allocate your budgets. But you should deliver savings in ways that protect as far as possible high cost subjects (including STEM), widening participation and small and specialist institutions”

The details are provided in subsequent appendices.

On social mobility, Appendix 1 states “We therefore want you to bring together funding which supports student retention and success, specifically the Student Opportunity fund and the Access to Learning Fund.”. This meas the removal of the Access to Learning Fund, which provides £37m of grants to the poorest students.

On student experience:

“The Council’s review of public information on higher education should consider whether there are better indicators, such as measures of student engagement, to provide information on what a high quality student experience looks like. We expect the Council to continue to identify improvements through pilot studies over the coming year as well as setting in train longer term improvements for the benefit of future cohorts. The work should include providing students with greater transparency on how institutions use income and how we can maximise the impact of the QAA’s guidance to institutions on publishing staff teaching qualifications, student evaluations, class size and student”.

This seems to link into other working going on to establish performance indicators that can be used across the sector, and possibly an enhanced version of KIS. Our commitment to increasing the numbers of staff with HEA fellowships, or postgaduate teaching qualifications will go some way to satisfying at least one of these requirements. Whether these indicators actually measure student experience, is of course debatable!

On science and research: “The ring fenced settlement for Science and Research resource means that we can continue to support research and related training through to 2015-16 through the Dual Support framework.”

On research excellence, HEFCE are urged to use the outcomes of the REF  “to inform research allocations from 2015 onwards. Increasing Open Access (OA) to research outputs is a key Government objective which should be supported by research assessment methodology and by the QR research funding stream in due course.”

On efficiency (and ignoring for the moment the comments on pay restraint for senior staff)

“There is an onus on institutions to demonstrate that they offer value for the fees students pay. At the same time, there remains a cross Government imperative to ensure that public money is spent efficiently…… further and faster improvements in efficiency, for example, considering pension costs and ways to reduce regulatory and bureaucratic burden. Ministers from this Department and HM Treasury have also asked Professor Sir Ian Diamond to carry out a further review of efficiency in Higher Education Institutions. We want the Council to work with Professor Diamond’s review, which aims to produce an interim report in Summer and present final conclusions by February 2015.”

I’m not sure how this statement about efficiency and bureaucracy links to the previous comments on student experience and provision of extra information, which will no doubt provide an added administrative burden for universities. Will we see a recommendation of things that can actually be dropped?

For a last word, let’s move to the Times Higher Education, and this quotation:

Michael Gunn, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University and chair of the university group Million+, described the retention of the student opportunity fund as a “victory for common sense”. But he said it was “still disappointing that the overall grant is being cut”



Online Learning – a conversation

Late on Friday I met up with an award leader from one of our schools. He was developing a new postgraduate award. He’s previously been active using social media to support his students, and is keen to use ideas learnt from MOOCs to develop onine learning resources

Since I am now responsible for Blackboard amongst other things, he felt I was a starting point for a number of his queries. (Disclosure – I may understand plenty of uni policies, but I’m not an e-learning guru).

But here are some of the things we went through, and I’m writing them up here because there may be ideas that others want to use, or challenge.

Shared Teaching

One of the perceived benefits was to move to a more open approach between multiple cohorts, with shared teaching materials and discussions. This can be dealt with in Blackboard, by creating an elective Community that is shared between each of the different module instances created for each intake. Content can be used to share learning materials.  Assessment will still need to be undertaken in the individual module.

MOOC style delivery

The intention was to have minimal lecturer involvement, and for students to self learn throughout the module. The evidence from MOOCs is that the dropout rate is high. Some synchronous seminars delivered online, using Skype, Google Hangouts or other third party tools might be a solution to this.

Open Access

We discussed the option of creating a module with content that could be used by two groups of students – those on an accredited version, and those on an unaccredited version. The plan was that the cost would be the same for both. I can’ see a benefit in this – if students are paying a fee, then they are paying for us to accredit their learning. Another  issue related to this would be around the length of time a student is enrolled on a module – our regulations expect that modules are completed within a certain time, and the information system codifies this. For the numbers of students involved, we felt there was little advantage in creating a second open version at this point.


In terms of content, we discussed the learning materials that could be used – the approach discussed meant that the course would use significant amounts of existing learning materials, and the role of the lecturer was to curate that material.

Roll on/Roll Off enrolment

This was the plan for the first module. There is a slight problem with this, and it’s more to do with other student systems. For every pattern of delivery we’ll need to create that definition in the student information system. So rather than have true roll on/roll off, we felt that creating 3 intakes per year might be a better approach.


After talking about the final assessment, we thought about how we could use peer assessment to improve formative feedback and engagement. Blackboard offers a great tool for this. If you create a self and peer assessment, under assessment tools, then questions can be created, together with a marking rubric. The assessment can then be set to be undertaken within a certain timescale. Following submission, all participants are then required to assess (anonymously) other students’ work. The advantage of this technique are: students engage in the marking process; peer pressure will encourage greater take up of a formative assessment opportunity and staff can record the formative marks received if desired.

These are just notes from a conversation,  but it shows some of the areas we should be providing more guidance in our Blackboard help files.


Some thoughts on Masters degrees

A part of my role in academic planning, I read a lot of proposals for new postgraduate awards, and I also look how many and what kind of student enrol in masters level taught awards when I’m doing any analysis of our award portfolio and student population. With the current approach to student visas likely to have an impact on international recruitment from some countries, and the cost of HE in the UK, it’s timely to consider how to develop an appropriate postgraduate offering.

This got me thinking, particularly in the light of a couple of articles in the press in the last week about M-level study.

The Times Higher reports on a recent forum where Mick Fuller, chair of the UK Council for Graduate Education and head of Plymouth University’s graduate school,said “institutions were now less able to cross subsidise master’s provision because of the squeeze on undergraduate numbers.” With the new fees regime set to leave graduates with loan debt of tens of thousands of pounds, many in the sector question whether students will burden themselves with more debt by moving into postgraduate study.

Bob Burgess of Leicester University added “the supply in taught master’s programmes had already become “dangerously low.We need to think about new ways to attract postgraduate students into higher education.”

The article cites the rise in Masters courses taught in English in other European countries, and that these could become more attractive to both U< and overseas students.

In another THE article, it states “Research councils may eventually have to “rethink” the requirement for PhD candidates to have a master’s degree if the number of studentships available for such lower-level courses continues to be cut.”

With these factors in mind, here’s a few thoughts and questions about taught masters awards

  • Why would a university run an award for which they might charge about £5000 for a UK student for 180 credits, when you could earn £9000 for teaching an undergraduate student for 120 credits?
  • How can we develop  targets that recognise that some activities – and postgraduate teaching is one of them – need to be considered in terms that are not just financial?
  • Why would a student choose a taught postgraduate masters over an integrated masters? The former would cost leas, and cover more learning, the latter, although more expensive could be completed in less time and be covered by a student loan?
  • In developing and reshaping a postgraduate portfolio, should awards be designed to directly follow on from awards in an existing undergraduate portfolio, or should they be more open and negotiated with a greater amount of research expected?
  • What should we measure in a postgraduate portfolio performance tool? Are the factors that we would use for undergraduate relevant, or do other things come into play?

I don;t have answers to these questions yet – just a set of opinions!- but these are some of the things I’ll be considering as I start work on assessing the postgraduate portfolio, and on mapping progression routes from our existing undergraduate awards.