University of Bolton, University of

Many people know of the expression “Red-brick universities”, but did you know there are “Plateglass universities” too? At the time of year when many A level students await results to see if they can get into the Higher Education (HE) institution of their choice, (whether Red-brick, Plateglass or any other kind!), we look at the challenges which face the HE sector around capturing student data, reporting on graduate outcomes and widening participation to groups less likely to matriculate.

First Class in Accuracy

In the academic year 2017-18 there were 2.34 million students studying across 164 Higher Education (HE) institutions. A recent survey of 64 of these institutions showed that data consistency and accuracy has grown in importance. Over 90% of respondents agreed and 65% believed this to be a “top priority”.

A Statutory Requirement
Universities, Higher Education colleges and other specialist providers of HE have a statutory requirement to report data to the HE funding bodies. HESA, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, works closely with providers to support this process and to analyse and assure the quality of the data they submit.

During the annual HESA return – which takes place in September and October – institutions can resubmit as many times as necessary during the collection. At the end of the collection, the data is signed off and delivered to statutory customers (HE funding bodies). Amendments after this time go into the Fixed Database (post-collection amendments) and incur a charge of 20% of the institution’s annual subscription fee to HESA (which is typically around £30,000). A single error in the return would incur a charge and require a manual fix – also costing valuable man-hours.

Jackie Thompson, Student Data Manager at The University of Bolton, uses AFD’s batch cleansing solution, Refiner, to help ensure student data consistency and accuracy: “When we receive student data from UCAS, the address data is often very poor quality, for example, the full address may be on one line, or there’s a correct address but incorrect postcode, parts of the address are missing etc. Refiner helps fix these issues by looking at the data we have and returning the complete address, validated and in the correct format.”

Access for All

Widening the access and participation of underrepresented parts of society to enrol in higher education is a key focus of the Office for Students (OfS) for the next 6 years. To measure and achieve this, the OfS is taking an explicitly data-driven approach to the monitoring of institutional performance in this area.


If an HE provider wishes to charge above the basic tuition fee cap, they are required to have an “approved access and participation plan” for students from minority groups, areas of lower Higher Education participation, lower household income and/or lower socioeconomic status groups.

Jackie continued: “We have used AFD’s data controls for ten years now and have enjoyed a good working relationship. Recently, AFD implemented the inclusion of the OfS POLAR (Participation of Local Areas) data in AFD’s Refiner product, allowing us to automatically append this important data in a batch process. Since this data shows how likely young people are to participate in higher education according to where they live, we are then able to target specific areas with marketing efforts in a bid to meet targets for widening participation and essential funding.”


Influencing the future

“Graduate Outcomes” is a recently introduced annual survey conducted by HESA, capturing the opinions and current employment situation of students 15 months after graduation. The objective of the survey is to provide insight to current and potential students into career paths and development, give feedback on courses and institutions, and help shape the future of the Higher Education sector.

Key to the completion of the survey is its successful delivery to the intended recipient. The challenge rests with each Higher Education institution to hold accurate contact data of their alumni.

HESA confirms that each institution is required to collect graduates’ personal contact details; this could be during final year re-enrolment or during the final teaching weeks of students. it is a requirement for the details to be “robust, accurate and comprehensive” and it is recommended that point of collection validation is in place for when details are entered and updated on the student record, and that alumni contact details are thoroughly cleansed prior to submission to HESA.

Email and telephone validation from AFD further help meet this requirement and achieve the target of “robust, accurate and comprehensive” contact data.


What’s the catch?
One of the biggest perceived obstacles in implementing new software is the time involved and integration barriers. Andy Ross, Service Delivery Manager at the University of Dundee, commented: “Upgrading to AFD Software within our student management information system took only a couple of hours. It just worked straight away!

We use AFD’s point-of-entry address validation – both online and in the admissions office – speeding up data entry and validating the addresses entered against the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File.

Having the ability for both staff and students to search by address fragment as well as the standard first-line plus postcode is especially useful for students who may have recently moved – for example, first years or graduates – and who may only partially know their full, correct address.”

For over 38 years, AFD Software has specialised in helping ensure data is consistent and accurate in thousands of organisations across multiple sectors, including Higher and Further Education.

Find out more on our Education Sector page


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