“Data is the next oil. Data is the new capital of the 21st century. Data will spur innovation and drive growth.” We’ve all heard statements like these over the last few years. And in many ways they’re true. As the volume and richness of data rapidly increases, so does the demand for insight into strategies that can be implemented to harness its full value.
Open data democratises this evolving market. Open data sets are proliferating, with over 8 million data sets available through Quandl and datacatalogs.org and nearly 20,000 through data.gov.uk. According to McKinsey, open data has a potential global value of $3 trillion. Lateral Economics estimates that open data – including open access research – could contribute $13 trillion to G20 economies cumulatively over the next five years. The assessment carried out for the 2013 Shakespeare Review estimated that the direct economic impact of public sector information in 2011 was over £7 billion.
But potential is not the same thing as reality. The challenge is to ensure that the plans drawn up by public sector bodies to release specific data sets are based on how the data can achieve a beneficial outcome, not – or, at least, not solely – based on the cost or ease of publication. Despite the best of intentions, only a relatively small proportion of open data sets now available have the latent potential to create significant economic or social impact. How can this potential be identified and translated into reality? And what does this mean for the higher education sector?
Higher education is a sector inundated with data, which has the capacity to contribute to the enhancement of both university education and research. Open data also has the potential to facilitate decision making and organisational change, provide insight into student choice and recruitment, improve teaching and learning, enhance the research process and drive growth in the local economies of which universities are a significant contributor.
As competition among higher education providers intensifies and markets are deregulated, data provides an opportunity to get ahead. In the face of competition for education and admissions, universities have to re-examine how they recruit, retain and educate their students, and ensure that the true value of their costly bricks and mortar is realised.
Demonstrating the uplift in value that universities deliver over online alternatives means providing prospective students with the information they need to make informed decisions. Publishing open data is one route to achieving this. And there are other benefits, too. Giving data back and being transparent about the way it is used and the benefits it delivers can result in greater trust in the relationships that a university establishes with its peers, with businesses and the public sector, and especially with its students.
As a result, a more solid community is established, and this may in itself play a part in providing insight into student choice. University of Southampton among one of the pioneers in open data, publishes a catalogue of open data made available by UK academic institutions. The university also has its own open data service, publishing daily lunch menus, a ‘Room Finder’, bus timetables, and an open data map of the campus.
Publishing data benefits more than just admissions and student retention. Operational efficiency, environmental impact and social responsibility all benefit from the public’s ability to access data and hold senior university officials to account.
But while there may be a justifiable clamour for the UK’s universities to open up more of their data, equally they need to use other sources of open data – both from the higher education sector and from elsewhere – to help them become more efficient and more effective in the increasingly competitive business of education.
For example, faculty heads could benchmark their courses against local or national employment needs by using business data published by Companies House and the Office for National Statistics. Admissions staff could match applicant and admissions data to detailed census data as well as data published by UCAS and HESA, to better understand the relationships affecting recruitment and retention of their students.
In practice, many such examples of the value of open data in higher education can be identified. Typically, what all have in common is that they depend on both publishing and use of open data; and on blending external open data sources with the internal institutional and administrative data collected by individual universities.
The bottom line is that by capitalising on the wealth of data now available – from internal activities as well as external sources – universities can generate valuable new insights to aid executive and operational decision-making. Through open data, university executives will be equipped to make smarter decisions. In response to their questions, they will receive clear and timely intelligence; opportunities and risks will be highlighted by insights derived from data that is well-managed, secure and accessible; and decision-making, itself, becomes more open and collaborative.
Harvey Lewis is Director of Deloitte Insight and Deloitte Analytics at Deloitte LLP.
Harvey Lewis is talking about translating the potential of open data into practice at 5pm Tuesday 15th July at Woburn House, Tavistock Square. To reserve a place or to find out more about the creating value from open data seminar series please go to http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/Events/Pages/creatingvaluefromopendata.aspx . You can also follow the event live online through the UUK YouTube channel at http://youtu.be/G2kzjgjtvC8