7 Benefits of Data Analytics in Higher Education

Higher education institutions are facing many challenges today, including decreasing enrollment rates, declining government funding and higher demand for mental health support following Covid-19 implications along with the current cost of living crisis. These challenges mean that universities need to find ways of improving their processes and the educational experience. Ensuring that students are given appropriate support to deal with these challenges and global changes.

The educational experience is a complex process that involves multiple stakeholders, including students, faculty, administrators, and support staff. Each of these stakeholders has a role to play in ensuring that students receive the best possible education and support. Analysing big data in education can help universities better understand the needs and preferences of their students, as well as the factors that contribute to their success.

Universities need to be able to prove their value to students and stakeholders by providing quality education. But how do they do this? The answer may lie in leveraging the power of data to improve student outcomes and drive institutional success.

With the rise of big data and advanced analytics tools, universities have access to vast amounts of data. This data can aid in developing strategies to improve the educational experience along with encouraging better student outcomes.

In this blog, we'll explore the benefits of data analysis in higher education and how universities can leverage big data. We'll discuss the different types of data that universities collect and how this data can be used to gain valuable insights. We'll also explore the challenges that universities face when implementing data analysis strategies.

What types of data do universities use?

Higher education institutions use various types of data to improve student outcomes. This data can be classified into two categories: quantitative and qualitative data.

Quantitative data includes information that can be measured numerically, such as test scores, grades and attendance rates. This type of data provides universities with objective measures of student performance and engagement, allowing them to identify patterns and trends that can inform interventions and support strategies.

For example, universities may use quantitative data to track student retention rates and graduation rates. It allows them to look for patterns that may show which students are at risk of dropping out or not completing their degree. They may also use quantitative data to measure the effectiveness of teaching methods or support services, such as tutoring or counselling, in promoting student success.

Qualitative data includes information that's more subjective and difficult to measure, such as student perceptions of their educational experience, feedback on teaching methods, or opinions on university policies and procedures. Qualitative data provides universities with a deeper understanding of the student experience. This can help identify areas for improvement that may not be clear from quantitative data alone.

Universities may use qualitative data to gather feedback from students on their perceptions of the university's culture. This information can encourage policy changes or the development of new student support services.

In addition to quantitative and qualitative data, higher education institutions also use a range of other types of data to inform their decision-making and support strategies. This may include data on student engagement with online learning platforms or student behaviour on social media, as well as data on the economic and social factors that may impact student success.

Benefits of big data analysis in higher education

1. Insights into student behaviour and performance

In the context of higher education, data analysis can provide universities a wealth of information about student demographics, academic performance, and engagement, among other things. For instance, universities can use data analysis to identify the academic performance of students in specific courses or programmes. This can help identify which courses or programmes are successful and which need improvement.

Institutions can also analyse student demographics to determine the most effective enrollment and retention strategies. Additionally, data analysis can be used to test the effectiveness of different support services, such as academic advising and tutoring, and to identify areas for improvement.

Research from UCLA found: “University leaders said they could make better strategic decisions about hiring and curriculum if they had more comprehensive data on faculty research, prospective students, research funding, higher-education policy trends and competitive intelligence about other universities.”

2. Improving student retention and identifying "at-risk" students

One of the main benefits of data analysis in higher education is its ability to improve student retention and graduation rates and to adopt a more proactive approach when it comes to student support. By analysing data on student performance and behaviour, universities can identify students who are "at-risk" of dropping out and offer them any support they need to succeed. This can include interventions such as tutoring, academic advising, and career counselling and general academic support.

An "at-risk" student is defined as a student who has a higher probability of failing a course, class or an exam. This can usually be caused by a variety of factors, not all academic, but personal factors also. The Office for Students states: “young students from disadvantaged areas are more likely to drop out, less likely to gain a first or 2:1, or find graduate employment compared to their more advantaged peer.” 

By analysing data on student demographics, academic performance, and engagement, universities can develop predictive models to identify students who are at risk of falling behind and provide those students with the necessary support to encourage them to achieve academic success, as well as support them from a more personal perspective.

3. Personalised learning and adaptive education

Another benefit of data analysis in higher education is its ability to support personalised learning and adaptive education. By analysing data on student performance and behaviour, universities can develop personalised learning plans that are tailored to each student's individual needs and learning style.

Analysing data from previous semesters also means universities can identify trends in the types of courses and subjects that students are interested in. This information can be used to develop new courses or change existing ones to better meet the needs of students. If there is data showing that a particular course isn’t as successful, the university can bring in extra resources to improve its offering.

4. Optimising course offerings

Data analysis can also help universities optimise their course offerings by identifying courses that are in high demand and courses that are not meeting student needs and need improving. By analysing data on enrollment patterns, student demographics, and course evaluations, universities can make informed decisions about which courses to offer and when. It also gives the opportunity for universities to recognise course redesign opportunities. 

By identifying where students are disengaged, or where performance may be dropping, institutions can redesign courses to better meet the needs of their students. Similarly they can get a better understanding of their most popular courses and ensure resources are being used cost effectively.

5. Improving teaching effectiveness

Data analysis can also help universities improve teaching effectiveness by providing insights into instructional practices and student learning outcomes. By analysing data on student engagement, performance, and satisfaction, universities can identify areas where teaching can be improved and provide targeted professional development opportunities for faculty. Data analysis can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of different teaching strategies and interventions. By analysing data on student outcomes and feedback, teachers can determine which strategies are most effective and make data-driven decisions about how to adjust their teaching approaches.

A teacher standing at the front of a lecture theatre teaching students

6. Predicting student success

By analysing historical data on student performance, including grades, attendance, and demographic information, predictive models can be built to forecast student outcomes such as graduation rates, academic success, and retention rates.

A predictive data analysis model is a statistical tool that uses data analysis to predict future outcomes based on historical data. These models are built using algorithms and mathematical formulas that analyse patterns and relationships between variables to make predictions about future events.

7. Enhancing overall institutional performance

Data analysis can help universities enhance their institutional performance by providing insights into resource allocation, financial performance, and other key areas. By analysing data on budgetary trends, enrolment patterns, and student outcomes, universities can make informed decisions about resource allocation and strategic planning.

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Overcoming challenges universities face when analysing data

While data analysis has great potential to improve student outcomes, universities also face several challenges when analysing data. These challenges can include:

1. Data quality

Data quality is a critical issue for universities as the accuracy and completeness of the data can impact the validity of the insights gained from analysis. Incomplete or inaccurate data can lead to incorrect conclusions or ineffective interventions.

2. Data security and privacy

Universities need to ensure that student data is secure and protected in compliance with relevant data privacy regulations. This can be challenging when working with sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information or health records.

3. Data consistency across departments

Universities often have a complex organisational structure, with different departments and units collecting and managing their own data. This can result in data silos, where data is not shared or integrated across the organisation, making it difficult to gain a comprehensive view of student performance and engagement. McKinsey states that there is “much reluctance” across departments in Higher Education Institutions to share data and that they lack set policies for how data can be shared across departments.

However these challenges can be overcome with the right upskilling in data analysis throughout workforces in all industries, not just education. With sufficient data training it’s possible to overcome inconsistencies across departments and build a more data-driven culture within an organisation.

Ready to solve the challenges of big data in education through upskilling?

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