Cross sector standards – a challenge too far?

I attended the first meeting of the Supplier Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Information Standards Board (ISB) last month. The ISB has been established as the overarching authority and governing body for the management and assurance of information standards across the ESCS (education, skills and children’s services) sector. Establishing standards across such a broad sector will be a challenge. For a start there are already established standards in a number of areas within the ESCS sector. This is reflected in differences in the coding for some common entities such as ethnicity. Secondly terminology varies – what higher education calls students, others in the sector might call learners or (in schools) pupils. So some effort will be needed to achieve a common vocabulary. Where there are common terms, the processes may vary. For example the admissions process in schools is to admit pupils to the school whereas in universities it is to admit a student onto a programme of study. The terminology is the same but the process is different. Add in the differences across the 4 home nations and it becomes clear that this is not going to be a trivial exercise.

The speed of Implementation is also likely to vary between the sectors. This in itself will raise some issues as the relevance of any given entity to a sector might not be immediately apparent. It will be necessary to identify potential uses in order to ensure that all sectors engage in the discussion on each entity. Also all sectors will have to see the business benefit of implementing the standard. Without it, as some initiatives have found, take up will be negligible. Further there will be costs associated with the change to a new standard and these have to be matched by a business benefit.

It is likely that the various sector agencies that have signed up to the Information Standards Board will be the ones that define the speed of implementation. They define the format of the data they receive or transmit and this will lead the implementation. However this does not necessarily mean that the standard will be adopted across entire systems. We have already seen that the adoption of Unicode for various aspects of UCAS data has not led to widespread deployment of Unicode in fields in all the systems where UCAS data is transferred during the student lifecycle. The impact of changes need to be assessed and understood to inform the implementation.

The difficulty suppliers have is deciding where to focus their resources and which initiatives to get involved in. At the moment it is not clear what the timescale is for implementing the standards defined by the ISB. The schedule for defining the standards is very aggressive but until the sector agencies give an indication as to when they might comply with those standards, they will always remain a low priority.

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2 Responses to “Cross sector standards – a challenge too far?”

  1. Andy Youell Says:

    The need for UK-wide HE data standards is a key theme in the HE Information Landscape project (http://landscape.hesa.ac.uk) and I hope that the report this summer will provide a clear roadmap for some of this work.

    The focus of data standards for our thinking is their role in the interface between HE institutions and the data collectors. The amount of transformation that institutions’ data needs to go through to adhere to a presentation standard will depend on the extent to which institutions and software providers adopt those standards internally – and that is a judgement for institutions and their suppliers.

  2. Andy Youell Says:

    PS for a brief exploration of one of the terminology issues, consider the question What is a Course?

    http://www.hesa.ac.uk/dox/publications/The_Course_Report.pdf

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