Good use of data is central to protecting student interests

What approach will the OfS take to data and analysis?

Over the coming weeks and months we will develop our data strategy, which will be published in September.

We want to be a data-led regulator. At its most fundamental, this means we will use data to deliver effective and efficient regulation in the interests of students. But it also means we want to use it in an intelligent way to reduce the overall burden of regulation on providers.

So it’s pretty critical to our work. In fact, the strategy will be an important document that guides much of what the OfS does.

To anyone who has read our regulatory framework and business plan, this won’t come as a great shock. We will use data to create lead indicators to support ongoing registration, to set targets for access and participation, and a whole host of other activities.

And when we talk about data, we mean different things. It covers many areas - structured data returns made by providers, surveys of students and other stakeholders, and big data sourced from the web and elsewhere.

So what will our approach to data be?

Collaborative working

First and foremost it will be collaborative. We will work with the wide range of bodies who already collect and generate data within the sector - HESA, ESFA, UCAS and the SLC.

Between us we will share data and develop common standards. We plan to be one of the first organisations to publicly commit to the Data Landscape Steering group’s demand side code of practice, a set of principles which will ensure we meet certain standards.

Only asking for what we need

Making data returns is expensive. So we will only ask providers for the data that we need to perform our functions, and that we cannot source from elsewhere. These functions include supporting UKRI and central government.

It follows from this that the data we require from providers will vary according to which category they choose to register in and the benefits they choose to access.

In only collecting the data we need, it should be clear to providers why we need the data we are asking for, how it will be used and the quality required.

Data linking

Data linking provides significant opportunities to reduce the burden on providers and gain further insights. So we will make use of it wherever we can.

Linking to schools data will, for example, deepen our understanding of student backgrounds. And the new LEO data can give us valuable insights into the earnings of graduates.

Data futures

Powerful as data linking is we will still need some data directly from providers. We are already working closely with HESA on their data futures programme – an initiative to modernise and streamline the landscape of data in higher education.

Data futures will be critical to ensuring that we have the core data we need on students at the time we need it, allowing us to make timely decisions and act to protect the student interest. Although data futures represents a significant change for many providers, further education colleges already make in-year returns and we will use these alongside data futures.


Finally, we need to recognise the extent of diversity and difference in the sector.

The providers we will regulate will be diverse and we want to encourage that diversity. The ways we, and HESA, collect and analyse data will need to support and reflect that diversity rather than constrain it.

Next steps

From all of this we can begin to understand why our data strategy matters and how it might shape up. Clearly, we still have a lot to decide, and we will want to do that through dialogue with key groups.

As well as understanding our strategy we know that providers are keen to understand the detailed data requirements that we will place on them.

We will confirm these requirements as soon as possible after the strategy has been agreed.


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