I attended a meeting of the MIAP (Managing Information Across Partners) Higher Education Advisory Group last week. The programme is intended to smooth the transfer of data between education sectors as well as providing a number of additional services to learners. The programme stalled at the end of 2008 when the business case for the programme in higher education was questioned.
Progress continues to be made, albeit slowly. There are a number of HE based pilots looking at a range of services and these are reporting some benefits. In one institution it was reported that adoption of the unique learner number was being driven by the widening participation agenda and in another uploading unique learner numbers assisted tracking as it highlighted that many of the institution’s undergraduates had joined the university from further education. Although there is some realisation of benefits there remains a high level of scepticism about the overall benefits of the programme. The proof will come in September when the pilots are due to report whether or not benefits have been demonstrated and whether a business case can be made.
There is progress in other HE related areas. The Personal Learner Record is now being populated with GCSE, A/S and A level through a pilot of around 105 providers. Timeliness remains an issue with information currently being uploaded some 3 – 4 months after the award has been made. Further the data is being uploaded by the providers (ie the schools) rather than the awarding bodies so there is some question about whether the records have been validated. UCAS are looking at linking the Apply system with the PLR as a way of populating Apply with results. This may prove a benefit for applicants if it saves them entering data but universities will need to gain confidence in the veracity of the data uploaded from the PLR.
It appears that some student records systems suppliers have already interfaced their software with the learner registration service, the mechanism by which individuals are allocated unique learner numbers. However, the question of how such numbers are allocated to international and mature students has yet to be addressed and remains a potential stumbling block for the programme. With a shift in emphasis away from 18 year old undergraduate entry it is a problem that needs addressing quickly.
In summary, the jury remains out on whether the programme will deliver benefit to the sector as a whole. The bulk of the pilots are at the recruiting end of the university spectrum and they appear to be most likely to identify benefits from using the unique learner number. Whether they can also identify benefits for the institution of using the PLR remain to be seen.