Monday, 5 September 2011

In praise of HESA

When I read stories like this one about dubious practices in published destinations data, I am reminded just how valuable the Higher Education Statistics Agency is in ensuring that we have consistently collected, reliable and auditable data collected and permanently held about all HE institutions in the UK. Not only held, but made available to all.

From the perspective of the individual on the ground, struggling to resolve data quality issues in the time and resource budget allowed, it is easy to focus on the negative. I'm very conscious of the weaknesses in my own institution's data, and I have seen plenty of examples of still greater weakness in others'.

But still, HESA ensure that no institution can redefine 'unemployment' for private advantage, or withhold the breakdown of graduate and non-graduate jobs from publication. If you wanted to test some aspect of the published data, there'd be no question of looking at your own institution's handful of forms, as Paul Campos seems to have done, you could get as much data from HESA as you needed to draw statistically valid conclusions (or, indeed, much more than that if you wanted to).

So for all its flaws, the regulatory system in the UK does deliver this one very significant achievement.

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