Tag Archives: higher education

A map of UK higher education providers

Is there a better map of UK higher education providers than this 2005 one from the University of Wolverhampton?

That question prompted much debate on Twitter among HE data experts about what counts as a provider, where they are, and which dataset to use. Two people even created their own alternative maps on the spot. Some think we should crowdsource data into an open Google Doc that then feeds a map. Others don’t think we need a map at all.

What’s a higher education provider?

This is a surprisingly complex question and one that’s foxed many people over the years. The (in)famous Regulatory Partnership Group pretty-much gave up on the question in its 2014 Corporate Forms project, concluding that whatever entity it is that the student registers with it must have some kind of governing body that is legally accountable – language that carries forward into the Higher Education and Research Act and the Office for Students regulatory framework.

But are we talking about a single institution, its registered address, or all of its campuses? Is it a location, a physical thing such as a building, or an organisation? What about non-UK parent companies setting up providers over here? And what about college HE?

For the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), an institution is something you can apply to. But for the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) an institution is something the funding council/regulator has defined as an institution. Yet even these two organisations define institution differently at different points. And in the National Student Survey, there is a distinction between place of tuition and place of registration. Things like joint medical schools are rarely legal entities but exist as separate institutions in UCAS, but not in HESA. UK Provider Reference Numbers (UKPRNs) define institutions as legal entities.

In data terms, HE in FE is a real mess. “Franchised” HE courses with FE colleges are found in HESA data but often listed as a separate institution by UCAS. If the students are actually registered as students of the college (sometimes referred to as “directly funded”) then all their data is collected by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (in England – or equivalent, if different collections in the rest of the UK). In fact, there is no equivalent in Wales as the directly-funded colleges are on HESA and subscribe to it. Much data is collected through the FE funding bodies using different definitions and colleges don’t have to pay in the way that HEIs and alternative providers have to subscribe to HESA. There’s quite a discrepancy in the subscriptions paid by the two sectors. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator deals with franchises in a particular way, and the rules for this are different to those of the Student Loans Company (SLC) for example. Franchise providers can’t be regulated in Wales – they only get student support through a university partner.

Student support regulations also vary according to the data used, with complexities around the types of institutions and how they are designated. Definitions can be different based on where a provider is located and the mode of study.

And where are they?

Once you’ve – sort of – decided what a provider is, how do you know where they are? By their postcode, or grid reference (Northing and Easting or longitude and latitude)? It can be useful for an institution to decide on a single reference point, such as the University of Southampton’s SO17 1BJ postcode. For a building, it could be the middle or the main entrance.

There’s a rumour that David Willetts’ driver’s satnav once took them to a sorting office on an industrial estate somewhere in the Midlands when he visited the University of Reading, ending up at the PO Box where the institution’s postcode is set. And if you take the average coordinates from institutions with multiple campuses, such as the University of Nottingham which has a presence in China and Malaysia, you’ll end up in the sea. Universities teach, research and examine in a huge range of locations, from local music venues to parks, to the Marianas Trench.

The formerly Jisc-funded project Data.ac.uk has learning provider data. As part of that, http://learning-provider.data.ac.uk is an unfunded project at the University of Southampton built with basic metadata from the UK Register of Learning Providers (UKRLP), linked to other datasets such as HESA, GatewayToResearch, DBPedia, and Unistats. It also features an unofficial dataset linking universities to their consortia. However, it only provides a postcode and the latitude/longitude of that postcode, rather than geographic information system (GIS) mapping data. HESA data on campuses lists Eastings and Northings for each campus of each institution, but not for alternative providers (yet). Provider information meta-data including coding frames, geoinformation and groups are all on the HESA Open Data Strategy but haven’t been released yet.

Which dataset is best?

In addition to Wolverhampton’s classic map, UCAS have one from last summer for applicants in PDF, @Dan_HE_man has a map of where he’s visited, and Push has this one from 2010. HESA’s Heidi Plus service can visualise institutions, but only using HESA data and privately to subscribers. Wales has a map of (some) providers here.

Possible datasets to use include:

  1. The Office for Students register (266 providers and counting)
  2. UK Register of Learning Providers (UKRLP)
  3. http://learning-provider.data.ac.uk
  4. Unistats (for the full dataset, see the Unistats page on the HESA website)
  5. HESA campuses data lists Eastings and Northings (grid references) and postcodes for each campus of each institution (currently charged for)
  6. UCAS data with postcodes of the main campuses of all providers who are registered with UCAS for the 2019 cycle which you can apply to (not always legal entities)
  7. Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) data
  8. Each devolved government publishes a recognised and listed bodies list
  9. HEFCW list of directly-funded providers of higher education in Wales
  10. Scottish Funding Council institution campuses, via HESA data
  11. Universities Scotland members who provided their address details
  12. SLC’s private database of institutions (1,041 primary and secondary campuses) paid in the 2017/18 academic year for full-time tuition fee loans (obtained via FOI)
  13. The Home Office’s Tier 4 register of licensed sponsors

It turns out not one of these sources is definitive, meaning an up-to-date map will remain a policy purist’s dream. And maybe that doesn’t matter, close enough is good enough for most uses.

HESA used to have a list of the institutions it collects data from (the INSTID field) but the list is so fluid now, especially since the inclusion of alternative providers, that the list of institutions changes while the data is being collected.

A better map

With special thanks to top data gurus Hamish McAlpine, Emma Rączka, Andy Youell, Dan Cook, David Best and Christopher Gutteridge, here’s an updated map using the latest data from nine of those datasets (each of which you can filter for). You can see all the underlying data and even copy it to have fun with your own map.

I STRONGLY recommend clicking here to open in a new tab full-size so you can have a proper play

Unfortunately, it will quickly be out of date as OfS has yet to show any ambition of providing an API or similar real-time data stream (although I hear learning-provider.data.ac.uk might be freely available to a loving home).

Data politics

With the sector’s regulators, funders and designated bodies currently going through a process of (hopefully creative) destruction, there are big decisions being made about data. The belated OfS data strategy could mark a significant milestone in this process and I hear that HESA’s data futures programme is racing ahead, though perhaps not taking everyone with it.

There’s a growing need for standard identifiers such as UKPRNs, and general naming consistency. The sector is (mostly) quite good at using identifiers, but the real world is messy, so maybe we just have to accept no definitive list of providers can exist. More data should also be open and editable, rather than locked away in PDFs.

And what about research data, could Research England map institutions’ funding, institutional engagement managers and grant tables in one place? And what about the potential to link HE datasets with other external sources to increase their usefulness e.g. the Smart Specialisation Hub’s map of England’s innovation system.

Another potential issue is data integration, could we produce a single source of research and teaching-related data? HESA doesn’t currently capture all research institutions. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has great potential to bring together data from the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England (and the OfS under its collaboration agreement with UKRI). But what should this look like?

So data are important, but does a map even matter? Some use cases could be argued, for instance when looking at social mobility coldspots, or for travelling politicians/journalists/minstrels. Sometimes it’s nice to just be a bit creative about communicating multiple bewildering datasets in a more accessible manner, and who doesn’t like pretty pictures?

As a visualisation of a dataset, a map (and the underlying data) can only be useful for certain uses. Multiple datasets (and the maps they create) may be correct, but the needs of an anxious 17-year old are (probably) different to a 42-year old minister. Which in turn are different to a civil servant’s exacting requirements, or a commercial property firm’s interests, or a university regulator’s needs.

However, barring the minister, the powers that be certainly don’t seem to think maps matter. Neither funding bodies nor HESA ever did an official map, and don’t pin any hopes on OfS.

Hopefully, some of the above questions, rather than just the pretty poster, will be attracting the English minister’s eye.


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ICYMI: 2016 in brief

It’s been another busy year in education, before everybody switches off for the holiday season and starts thinking about 2017, I thought it was worth a quick recap of the key events that happened in education over the past year…


  1. Overall education spending drops as a proportion of GDP from 5.3% in 2011-12 to 4.4% in 2015-16
  2. Education Select Committee publishes report on Regional School Commissioners


  1. Select Committee launches an inquiry into apprenticeships
  2. £4.3m Troops to Teachers scheme delivers … 28 new teachers
  3. Prof. Becky Francis appointed as next Director of UCL Institute of Education (IoE), taking over from Professor Chris Husbands in July


  1. George Osborne and Nicky Morgan announce all schools would become academies, then quickly rowed back, with the final death knell for the plans coming in October
  2. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs)


  1. DfE announces that the three remaining ‘approved’ baseline assessments will no longer be an accountability measure, due to lack of comparability
  2. KS1 SAT spelling and grammar test stopped at short notice


  1. Queen’s speech includes new statutory duty for schools to promote the National Citizen Service
  2. Eight new deputy directors appointed to lead RSC offices


  1. Despite poll predictions, 52% of the UK voted for #BrExit, it’s still not quite clear what this means
  2. Centre Forum is reincarnated as the Education Policy Institute (EPI) – with a deep war chest, a crack team and a sceptical take on Government policy
  3. Education charities Teaching Leaders and The Future Leaders Trust announce they will merge, becoming Ambition School Leadership in November


  1. After an aborted leadership election David Cameron steps down and Theresa May walks into Number 10, replacing Nicky Morgan with Justine Greening as SoS for education
  2. National Governors’ Association (NGA), The Future Leaders Trust (TFLT) and NFER publish research on Executive Headteachers
  3. Amanda Spielman the Chair of Ofqual is confirmed as the next Ofsted Chief Inspector, taking over from Sir Michael Wilshaw in January 2017
  4. Another critical Select Committee inquiry on careers, expect the much anticipated ‘careers strategy’ before summer 2017…


  1. Dame Alison Peacock of the Wroxham School announced as new CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, starting in January 2017
  2. Early years foundation stage profile reinstated as statutory


  1. Theresa May’s joint Chief of Staff Nick Timothy credited with masterminding the rather controversial (grammar) Schools that work for everyone ‘consultation’
  2. NFER publish a follow-up report on teacher retention
  3. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘primary assessment’


  1. On Halloween the Select Committee launches an inquiry into selective education


  1. A familiar feeling as the nation wakes up to another unexpected result, Trump for President.
  2. £200m earmarked for grammar schools in the last ever Autumn Statement
  3. NFER published ‘a tale of eight regions’, a follow up report about RSCs
  4. Two ASCL leadership candidates are announced, Chris Kirk and Geoff Barton, with members ‘going to the polls’ in January, and results out 10 February 2017
  5. Social Mobility Commission (SMC) publishes annual State of the Nation report
  6. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘Children and young people’s mental health’
  7. Five Select Committees lobby the SoS for statutory PSHE education, some for a second time
  8. Select Committee writes to the DfE with concerns about the transparency and accountability of academy finances
  9. TIMSS and PISA report within a week of each other. NFER publish 20 years of TIMSS in England, TIMSS 2015 in Northern Ireland (full results and key insights), PISA 2015 in Scotland, PISA 2015 for all four UK nations


  1. NAO publish report showing a £3bn hole in school finances, with 8% real term cuts and 60.6% of secondary academies in the red
  2. ‘Schools national funding formula – stage 2’ consultation launches, deadline 22 March 2017
  3. NFER publish research on the maths performance of disadvantaged students in England
  4. Primary schools achieve strong KS2 SATs results, despite assessment changes
  5. The National Teaching Service is scrapped
  6. The higher education REF consultation opens

Download a two-page Word version (with clickable URLs) here

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Filed under British schools, HE in England, Uncategorized

Learning as we teach: e-books, an overview

(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job in November 2013)

I recently had the pleasure of presenting at a Pearson conference on e-books about the opportunities and challenges this emergent technology represents.

This presentation covers seven key areas.
1. A little context
2. Caution – emergent technology
3. What are e-books anyway?
4. pro’s & con’s (according to the evidence)
5. e-book features
6. Teaching and learning (new pedagogies)
7. What can you do?
8. What does the future hold for e-books?

Please share your views using the comments function or by getting in touch.

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Filed under Future HE trends, Global HE, HE in England

Fair access to higher education

(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job in Oct 2013)

I just had the opportunity of presenting at the inaugural ‘World Congress on Access to Post-Secondary Education’ in Montreal. It was my first attempt at a synthesis of four projects that the Pearson Think Tank is involved in; on rising tuition fees, school-based careers guidance, university admissions and open education data. In different ways all of these projects explore the ‘wicked problem’ (complex, evolving and interdependent) of fair access to higher education.

The work highlights three of the common barriers that restrict fair access to higher education;
1) Information asymmetry
2) Unequal distribution of resources
3) Variable and sometimes unequal access

As well as three potential solutions that have been developed over the course of the projects:
1) Deliver truly personalised information and support
2) Develop sustainable local learning ecosystems
3) Make appropriate use of open data

This is an emerging strand of thinking so please do share your feedback.

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Filed under Future HE trends, HE in England

Presenting some ideas about employability

(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job in March 2013)

I recently had the pleasure of presenting at a conference about employability in higher education. I was the first speaker of the day, setting the scene and highlighting issues for consideration.

Below is the presentation I delivered, with some info about the context we’re in, different approaches to employability, related approaches and key questions to consider. Employability is a common theme for Blue Skies authors and is increasingly featured in institutional responses to recent developments. But is the sector being specific enough about how employability can support different missions?

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Filed under Future HE trends, HE in England

Higher education in Asia-Pacific

(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job in April 2013)


Its common knowledge that overall this region is seeing high economic growth, driven by large populations of young people and rapidly developing economies. But it is not always clear what’s happening ‘under the bonnet’ when it come to higher education. In this final post based on reflections from visiting the region for the Asia-Pacific edition of Blue Skies, I want to draw out a few themes that I spotted.

Economic growth is driving demand from employers in the region for higher-level skills and although provision is rapidly increasing, there is still more to do with both capacity and quality. The latter is seen as critical to ensuring that these rising nations are both efficient and competitive. Higher education investment is seen as one key strategy for fuelling economic development and growth. However, relative to primary and secondary education it is accepted that learners increasingly have both the means and motivation to contribute to their costs, with a rise in cost-sharing and partnerships for long-term financial sustainability. There has also been particular growth of private sector provision across the region, often filling gaps and responding to new areas of demand. The HE sector is also beginning to diversify and specialise although this process has a long way to go in most cases. In addition to economic objectives higher education is also seen as crucial to achieving social development, with the rising middle class demanding inclusive and equitable access to higher education opportunities.

One major trend across these countries that has implications for HE is the rise in regional integration. Organisations such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are driving closer cooperation, cross-border collaboration and partnerships in the HE sector. For example they are working to harmonise qualifications and support the mobility of both students and workers. The European Union is a good example of what can be achieved with such supra-national groupings. This also aligns with the global rise in internationalisation and mobility of students, academics and university brands. Together these trends will intensify competition, create opportunities for deeper global partnerships, and open access to both student and academic talent. More and more students will be studying at rapidly improving institutions within the region, rather than relatively expensive developed-world institutions. Another organisation driving this agenda in the region is made up of the ten countries now within the geo-political and economic alliance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). First founded in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, membership has subsequently expanded to include Brunei, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Within this grouping 26 member institutions make up the ASEAN University Network (AUN), pro-actively focusing on exchanges, sharing expertise, and increasing mobility.

The internationalisation agenda is also playing into this environment, with more and more universities beginning to teach and publish research in English, competing on the world stage. The exception to this trend is Japan which is still experiencing economic challenges and an often insular culture.

In some cases booming economies can offer relatively high salaries without the need for a degree, as is the case for mining in some parts of Australia and call centre work in the Philippines (now with a bigger Business Processing Outsourcing [BPO] industry than India). It remains to be seen if such trends can be sustained with most jobs requiring ever-higher levels of skill and fuelling the growing demand for higher education in this region. It is clear that South East Asian higher education has come a long way but still had plenty of scope to grow and improve further.

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