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Predicting the future of higher education

With chaotic times in British politics, universities should do all in their power to inform decision making with business intelligence

Posted by Fiona Cowan | August 02, 2016 | Research

With chaotic times in British politics, universities should, more than ever, do all in their power to inform decision making with business intelligence – to stay on top of overseas student numbers, graduate employability figures, staff number requirements, and a whole host of other variables.

By Graham James, CACI

Has analytics software become more important for you after the political changes to university funding in recent years?

Beyond financial planning, are you currently using business intelligence or analytics software to inform your strategic plans (such as for developing facilities, student recruitment and course planning)?

Even before the Brexit referendum, volatile numbers of overseas students was the number one concern for UK higher education finance professionals, according to a survey of University Business readers conducted by the software consultancy CACI. In the time to come, this volatility is only set to increase.

Meanwhile, according to the same finance professionals, the most important USP that UK universities strive for is top employability ratings of graduates – an everlasting challenge for educational institutions.

Predicting future trends of overseas applications and graduate employment are thus two of the most important challenges for British higher education institutions. How to succeed with collecting the necessary data points, analysing them, and predicting future outcomes, however, is a very difficult question, which we at CACI help universities solve.

For many universities, the first step to succeeding with collecting such large swathes of information – or “big data”, to use the jargon – is installing new software systems that are easy to use for a large number of the work force.

Simple access dashboards and apps pull information together from across the organisation, enabling directors, managers and regulators to easily monitor KPIs and analyse trends.

Having worked with a third of all UK universities, CACI knows the value of all-encompassing business intelligence solutions that help measure and manage performance across the board – both from an academic and a business perspective.

One of the central aspects of big data is to make sure to avoid an information overload and instead focus on honing information into tangible insights that provide clear answers to the “what next?” questions university administrators face almost daily.

It’s answering this “what next?” question, and being able to spot areas of concern before it’s too late, that are the fundamental goals of business analytics. Without analytics, such questions will be answered less on the basis of facts and more on the basis of how “it’s always been done”, which should not be the way forward.

The uncertain political times the higher education sector is faced with will not pass anytime soon. However, for the many successful universities in this country, this uncertainty, while troublesome, should not be too upsetting, since the true sailor does not pray for wind, but learns to sail.

And the latest business analytics technologies will provide that way to sail – by making student number planning more accurate, course planning more in tune with what students want, and at the same time helping finance teams model income and costs at both student and course levels calmer waters may well lie ahead. One thing is certain: future success depends on predictability and well-informed decision making.

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