Interview with Daniel Walker of UCAS
Now many projects have indicated that they’d like to see UCAS adopt the XCRI standard. Do you think this might be beneficial?
UCAS certainly recognises the value of introducing efficiencies into the sector and can see how XCRI-cap as a mechanism for transmitting data is one of the steps that could be taken to improve the flow of data and introduce efficiencies into data supply processes of which UCAS is obviously integral. It’s part of the reasoning behind our involvement in initiatives such as the HE Data and Information Landscape Project.
How do you think UCAS might take these suggestions forward and the XCRI-cap standard forward?
We’re currently examining the feasibility of introducing XCRI-cap in phase 3 of our course collect product. We’ve been undergoing a development of a system to collect, via an interface, and host via a centralised database courses that UCAS uses within its application and advertising mechanisms and frameworks so undergraduate courses – CUKAS and UCAS are within our initial phase. We’re looking at rolling that out to other course types as we implement and develop this new system and downstream, phase 3 I think is the area where we’re currently looking at drawing in information via a bulk feed as it were and XCRI-cap is the mechanism that we’re looking at. So we’re testing out feasibility, we’re looking at an imminent release of the initial phase of course collect and we’re in the development cycle for the subsequent phases.
Are there any other particular questions that UCAS would like answered by the Programme in order to inform its future development plans?
I think that one of the key areas that UCAS is keen to engage with at this point in time is via an internal initiative that we’re currently running that’s our own data programme which is looking at data governance and data management, all of the associated aspects of best practice in terms of data usage and compliance, those kind of areas. So we’ve examined things like data standards, about data quality, about data protection, all of the various areas that are very hot topics to the sector at the moment. From that point of view it would be obviously then a springboard to discuss on how data aggregated via a system is managed on behalf of the sector, so how can best practice be rolled out within a structure where data is exchanged on a very rapid and fluid basis so I think that’s one of the intriguing things that would be interesting to explore within the framework of XCRI-cap. How do organisations adhere to their own internal standards, how do they engage with the standards of organisations they’re supplying data to. What mechanism is there that XCRI-cap enables?
What do you think is the importance of the Course Data Programme for the sector?
It’s timely. Very definitely. As the sector finds pressures and drivers to be as efficient and as effective as possible and as we look at other drivers coming in, whether that’s open data initiatives pushed down from other areas, whether that’s looking at how data can be shared more effectively. There are drivers in terms of operational efficiencies and there are drivers in terms of effective use of data. That doesn’t just happen within the sector, that’s reflective of society and community in general, the sort of Big Data concept where you’re looking at how data can be joined together to leverage more value out of it, how different datasets when they combine can be the generating point for further information and further detail, for richer analysis, for mining more information out of it. And as we move into that society where data really is the currency, we really need initiatives that ease the transmission of that data, that looks, as much as possible at making sure that every operation within that process is functional but elegant as possible.
You’ve touched on this already, but where do you see this going in the future?
I think the aspects that deliver the greatest value will be where we initially focus. I think that there’s then other areas where we need to look at, what else can be done, what other information can be transmitted but I think not only that, I think that there’s an exercise that can be undertaken to look at what other initiatives are going on within the sector, whether that’s developing sector-wide standards, whether that’s using sector-wide identifiers for key aspects of information, all of those are being undertaken in distinct and unique programmes and I think that we’re starting to see dialogues going on about how those programmes can actually align. How can standards being developed by the information standards board be effectively used within XCRI-cap? How will the unique learner number be introduced by the learner records service, and being leveraged by the HE Data and Information Landscape enabled more fluid transmission of data via platforms such as these. I think it’s where there are independent activities going on, they’re introducing their own efficiencies; when those start to align I think that’s when we’ll really see a lot of value being introduced by these initiatives and realised by the sector.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about the work that needs to be continued within the Course Data area?
There’s both the need for different skillsets, different specialists to come together and to look at how they can work together to benefit these kind of activities so myself, I’ve experience within the usage of data, the application of data, the various policies and governance and management and the implications of usage of data within the sector. Conversations obviously similarly need to be conducted with the IT areas that actually implement these through whatever technical platforms there are. There’s also discussions that can go in with people who can realise the strategic, who can analyse the strategic impact of these initiatives so you can describe actually this is the financial impact of introducing this efficiency, these are the amount of hours that are saved on behalf of the sector and this is the amount of money that this initiative has realised on behalf of the sector. So I think it comes from not just the implementation but I think that there’s end work as well to actually communicate what the benefits are, to get more buy-in from people and to actually describe to people, ‘OK if you do this on behalf of your organisation, there will be an initial outlay, or an initial investment of time and resource but this is the return that you can expect and I guess that’s not just describing it in terms of the financial value but I think that there’s also benefit to analysing what the impact is on the student experience, what information they’re now finding, what information is unlocked by these kind of activities, so I think it’s joining up both the discussion we’re having currently about implementation but also the piece afterwards about what the benefit realised is and that should inform what the next stages are.