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Administration in HE: The role of information technology

November 10, 2011

Think of any project within your institution and it is likely that information technology (IT) plays a role.  IT is applied in many areas of university and college life, from making payments with a smart card in the student refectory to analysing large amounts of scientific data using high performance computing facilities.

IT also has a significant role to play in university administration.  This role has developed over the last thirty years, evolving from moving paper-based student records on to computerised databases, to the current situation where IT is embedded into the fabric of the UK’s higher education institutions. 

IT departments and university administrators are working together to see how they can improve current systems across their institutions to reduce data duplication, lessen the burden of reporting and ultimately lead to efficiency savings.  Here are just two exciting national initiatives in this area.

Fewer data returns
The Association of Heads of University Administration (AHUA) will shortly be issuing a survey which will seek to capture the range and volume of data returns compiled and submitted by the sector.   This work is based on a list of returns identified by the HESA User Group and informed by a study carried out by Universities UK’s HE Better Regulation Group.  Those responding to the survey will be invited to identify which returns their institutions currently complete, and add any returns not already listed.  The aim is that this data can then be used to rationalise the number of returns made in the sector.

A common data standard for research administration
Administrative information about researchers, projects, outputs and funding can be stored in many different formats and spread across university systems.  Increasingly, however, institutions require their systems to talk to each other internally, and universities are expected to submit more, and different, information to funders.

A recent Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) report found that establishing a common data standard for managing research information in the UK could save the higher education sector millions of pounds.  

 Further research by the JISC shows compelling evidence for the sector to adopt the Common European Research Information Format (CERIF) as the basis for exchanging research information in the UK.  This research has been welcomed by HEFCE, who have indicated that they will support CERIF as a format for institutions to submit information in the Research Excellence Framework.

An ongoing process
UCISA’s Corporate Information Systems Group (CISG) exists to improve the provision of administrative computing, management information and related corporate services within UK higher education institutions. 

As part of that remit the Group liaises with bodies such as the Student Loans Company and the UK Border Agency.  This gives a sector-wide perspective to policy makers and helps those bodies to communicate, for example, proposed changes to data collection.

The Group is also examining the impact of cloud computing on corporate information systems within universities.  Another area of work being undertaken is considering how mobile technology can deliver a personal view of an institution’s corporate systems to students and staff.

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