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Painting a more complete picture for students

As the 15 August deadline for entries to the Higher Education Open Data Competition approaches, we look back at the events we've held so far and the lessons we've already learned.

The crowd at the innovation day
Credit: ODI Leeds

On its own, the LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data could provide some insight but would be inaccessible to the average person. Combined with other open datasets though perhaps we can help students navigate a path through *what* to study, *where* to study their chosen course and what a *student lifestyle* would actually be like for them, to give them the best tools to map their own route.

A recurring comment from the warm up events and the more in-depth innovation day was the fact that prospective higher education students are faced with an overwhelming amount of information with no way to properly make sense of what they could be doing after their course. What could you be earning in future? Will you need a combination of A-Levels or even a combination of HE courses to get where you want to be?

And what if you want to remain flexible in your adulthood? Which course(s) could you take that would allow you to have different career paths over your life-time?

In a scenario where you have successfully settled on *which* course is right for you, the next thing to think about is *where* you study, which is also an aspect of HE that can be confusing. What do prospective students value when thinking about where to study? And what influences their decision? Are students from lower-income families more likely to stay at home or close to family? And can you put a value on aspects of student life, such as cost of living, entertainment, etc?

We think there is great potential in using higher education open data to help answer some of these questions. We can't speak for every city or region but we can use some Leeds examples of how different open datasets could be used together to start building a more informative and complete picture of life as a higher education student. Data Mill North is home to a lot of open data about the city and region, and at ODI Leeds, we work on a lot of exploratory data projects with data that isn't available openly (yet) but the results of working with it can be shared.

One such project was Skills Skills Skills. Working with Henri Egle-Sorotos from Tech Nation, we hosted a one-day workshop to explore and interrogate the data - 3 years worth of online job listings in the North. The aim was to better understand the jobs market in the North and identify any gaps in skills, particularly for digital/tech jobs. But the dataset included ALL jobs, not just digital ones, so there was scope for looking at jobs across various sectors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a massive need for social care and health workers, followed swiftly by consultancy, admin, and IT jobs.

For students who are flexible and would like to study for a guaranteed career, this kind of dataset could show them which jobs are most likely to be in-demand. This dataset also revealed the skills that employers most wanted to see (aggregated in this spreadsheet). Most of the listed skills are 'soft skills', so might not match directly to a higher education course. However, if a dataset existed that contained every higher education course that included 'skills you will learn' as a field, this could help a student pick a relevant course that also helped build the soft skills that will be useful for the future. At the time of writing, the jobs dataset is not available openly, so that is something to add to the collective open data to-do list!

Onto the *student lifestyle*, open data can also shed some light on what living in a particular town or city might be like. Using Leeds as the example again, open data is published about various aspects of the city such as places to eat and drink, places of interest, free activities to stay healthy, etc, all of which can be used to inform students about their higher education choices. Happiness during your degree or other higher education course plays a big role in whether you stick with it to the end, so choosing the right course in the wrong city could be a disaster. Leeds even publishes open data about the amount of (off-campus) student housing available, so a student could know in advance which parts of the city and surrounding areas are 'student-friendly.'

But these are just some of the ideas weve had. If you think you can be a part of putting together the right tools to help students, dont forget to register for the competition through Innovate UK's Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) webpage by 8 August. Applications must submit their final entries by noon on 15 August.