Starting point for rationalisation

Last week the Higher Education Data & Information Improvement Programme (HEDIIP) published an inventory of data collections made by higher education institutions (HEIs). The inventory verifies the results from a survey carried out in 2010 by the Higher Education Better Regulation Group (HEBRG) – there are over 500 different data collections required of the sector.

Although each HEI will only be returning a subset of the data collections listed (in some cases a fairly substantial subset) the inventory clearly illustrates the high demand, and hence burden, placed on the sector for its data. It was created to both allow HEIs to better understand the collections they are submitting and to give data collectors sight of the other collections being undertaken. The former may appear a surprising objective but the primary contacts for many of the collections required by the NHS and professional bodies are at departmental level. Consequently, although there is a clear understanding at institutional level of the major reporting requirements and their links to risk and audit, few have a complete overview of all reporting.

The report accompanying the inventory also picks up a number of issues. The HEBRG report identified that the NHS and its associated organisations accounted for around 10% of the data collections carried out by the sector. This 10% is made up of collections from a wide range of organisations with disparate requirements. This variation is exacerbated by some of the Strategic Health Authorities varied the standard NHS dataset to meet their own requirements – clearly any variation from a standard results in an additional reporting burden.

There are a large number of professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRBs) collecting data for the sector accounting for just under 30% of returns. The development of the Key Information Set has clarified those PSRBs that accredit courses in the sector but there are a number that have some form of engagement with the institutions that do not appear to have a formal accreditation role (as identified by the KIS). However, institutions (perhaps at a departmental level) identify benefits of PSRB engagement. Whilst the volume and variety of PSRB collections is one challenge, a further issue is that institutions cannot easily use data from corporate systems because of the particular requirements of the collectors. This in itself leads to bespoke data collection and reporting with its incumbent cost.

There is some cause for optimism though. The establishment of Health Education England will provide some focus for the whole healthcare education and training system (at least in England) and it is hoped that the body will play a key role in rationalising institutional reporting to NHS bodies. Similarly the Medical Schools Council has been working with a broad group of bodies to streamline other health related data collections. The report notes that Contact with a number of PSRBs has identified attempts at reducing the load on institutions by setting common standards within a group of PSRBs, using available institutional data, collecting data with regard to internal business cycles and using, or encouraging the use of, HESA data. So it is hoped that this core set of PSRBs can achieve some streamlining and that they may act as champions to bring others on board.

The inventory marks a starting point for rationalising the number of data collections required of the sector. It is encouraging that some data collectors are at least starting on this path. But consolidating the number of data collections is only half the story. It is hoped that institutions will take the opportunity to use the inventory to get a better understanding of how others use their data and where data is processed within the institution. Improvements in the data quality and collection and processing of data may then follow. If both these objectives are achieved then HEDIIP will have delivered some major benefits to the sector.

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