Remember a time when summers were endless? When the days were tinted through nostalgic filters (not instagram), the sun was always shining, and the world was an adventure that was waiting to happen…

Well, for students around the country, these days are here again, with the bell ringing on another term and the endless summer holidays under way.

But as staff at universities and colleges prepare for the influx of new students, the summer might never seem to end… for very different reasons.

Already a load of work will have gone into predicting the number of new student arrivals. Ruled by unwieldy spreadsheets, bossed by Excel and struggling to gather disparate data from multiple sources – HR, Information managers and strategic planners will have been banging their heads together to come up with predictions and solutions to help plan for the upcoming term. Student numbers, staff allocation, timetabling, facilities management – the big “what if” questions…

Big questions that often take too long to answer, meaning missed opportunities and inefficient use of resources.

We know this because we’ve worked with a number of colleges and universities to simplify these ‘what if’ questions, introducing automated solutions that accurately (and quickly) predict multiple scenarios by harnessing the power of their data.

“We have to be able to look at the workload of the whole school, and decide if it’s really making the best use of the resources that we have,” says Helen Macpherson of Glasgow University.

Education and analytics

Workload modelling aims to anticipate the resources and time needed by tutors and departments, while allowing a vital balance between teaching and research.

But planning for student intake isn’t the only outcome of predictive modelling solutions. The resulting confidence in the data allows staff to spend more time thinking about strategy instead of worrying about single numbers.

“We want to use our income streams to invest in new buildings, in new facilities or in new residences for the students,” explains Anita Wright, head of strategic planning at the University of Liverpool. “To do this, we have to accurately predict how many students are going to join the university.”

However, the system developed by Liverpool will enable detailed forecasts of staff numbers and expenditure too, meaning the University can use its income streams more intelligently to invest in its future.

Work modelling

In an increasingly competitive higher education market, universities rely on their ability to attract and retain students from both home and abroad.

Edinburgh Napier University is no different. It’s Planning and Intelligence division plays a key role in supporting the University’s strategic direction, providing accurate management information, timely interventions and advice.

So, it’s important to be able to turn a huge amount of data into actionable information. This information must be accessible, useful, accurate and up-to-date at the decision point.

To allow this, the university worked closely with Barrachd to create an analytics solution that draws from insight gained around trends in applications, enrolments, student demographics, retention figures, University league table and benchmarking analysis, student profiling and module analysis. This creates a clear view for the executive, allowing accessible, constant insight and a clearer understanding of the University’s strategic position.

As you can see, analytics play an important part of planning for the future. But data can provide universities with insight that can alter the future too.

One Edinburgh college has used data analytics to predict the students that are most vulnerable to dropping out, allowing them to take action to alter this pattern before it’s too late.

Telford College (now Edinburgh College) realised that if it could get a really good grasp of its attendance data and analyse it effectively, it would be able to identify patterns, help learners address these issues and offer extra support.

“Attendance is important for many reasons,” explains Lisa Dawson, former IS Manager at Edinburgh’s Telford College. “Foremost, if a learner isn’t attending their classes, they aren’t getting the full value of the course. However, waning attendance is
 often an indicator that something’s wrong – perhaps the learner isn’t completely happy with the experience, or external factors are making it difficult for them. There’s also a financial element: government bursaries and Education Maintenance Allowance can only be awarded to learners who achieve certain attendance levels – and these bursaries are a vital part of many learners’ ability to finance their studies.”

So, while students around the country are still enjoying a well-earned summer break, recharging for the upcoming year of learning, spare a thought for those behind the scenes at the universities and colleges that are stuck in Excel hell, planning for these new arrivals. And, if you want to help them, perhaps you might even want to share this post and show them just how much easier it could be if the power of data is harnessed intelligently.

Barrachd works with many of the UK’s leading universities. Our planning solutions ensure that Universities have the confidence to be agile and adaptive when faced with change. From accurate student number planning to workflow modelling and predicting income streams – we can help you use your data to plan efficiently to ensure the very best use of the resources available, to reduce attrition rates, to create a vital balance between teaching and research, and to continue sustainable reinvestment in the university estate.

If you want to find out more about our solutions for Higher Education and how we can help you, contact the Barrachd team.

Read our blog post on Student Number Planning or see the work we’ve been doing with University of Liverpool.

Posted in Cognos, Education, TM1 On September 17, 2015 By