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With the creative use of dashboards, university benchmarking doesn't have to be a source of frustration.

Benchmarking is a contentious issue for universities. We show how important dashboards are in not only measuring what your competitors are up to, but in using that data to improve.

Since the introduction of fees, a more consumer-like approach to study has made new students more informed than ever, with high expectations of value for money. Universities face tough competition and must keep on top of their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Using the right dashboard software gives consistency across data management and allows individuals - even those with little IT knowledge - to manage and take ownership of data, supporting their institution’s strategic direction.

With dashboards, your team can quickly create reports on progression and completion rates, classification stats, fee regimes etc, and stay ahead of the game. You can even measure what your competitors are doing and keep track of rival institutions.

What to measure 


The Key Information Set (KIS) comprises information students find most useful when making course choices. Using one dashboard system makes collating this much more efficient, preventing time being wasted ploughing through spreadsheets and pdf files.

Metrics that universities should be monitoring are complex and numerous – they can even be used by web teams to analyse demographic and performance data for Twitter, and monitor what is being said on influential social media. Here are some key measurement areas, and ways that dashboards can provide solutions:

1. League tables – loved and loathed.

For those at the top, league tables are a strong selling point and a good addition to marketing messages. For those nearer the bottom, they're a source of frustration. Frequent issues include:

  • They compare completely different institutions
  • They are too research-focused and don’t accurately represent the many success stories of graduates
  • They don't take widening participation into consideration . Some post-92 institutions feel penalised

However they are viewed, league tables are used by students for comparisons and do influence decisions.

An increasingly influential table is the Green guide, ranking environmental and ethical performance. Active dashboards assist with reports linked to energy usage and savings, and have the added benefit of reducing printing outputs. It sometimes seems like a new subsidiary league table appears every year and compilers are in competition as much as universities. Dashboards can improve league table performance by identifying problem areas early on so timely action can be taken.

2. Applications, admissions and enrolmentsDashboards monitor conversion rates for students and enable tracking of enrolments against admissions. They can help universities avoid the financial pitfalls of both under-recruiting, which may result in course closures and financial losses; or over-recruiting, which could result in a hefty fine. Many universities find dashboards particularly useful during the Clearing process; when hotlines are frantic, the benefits of ‘real-time’ data really come into their own:

  • Get more control over the Clearing process
  • Fill your courses fast thanks to the ability to see your stats in real time and react instantly to emerging trends
  • Compare your performance to previous periods to know at a glance whether you’re doing better or worse

3. Faculty data

There are so many ways dashboards can assist in the efficient management of a faculty. The areas you can analyse include course viability, success, student behaviours, course trends and finances. It is simple to:

  • Monitor attendance data by highlighting courses and individual student patterns to grasp retention issues
  • Manage risk by getting an aggregated overview of high risk retention areas to ensure effective mitigation.
  • Review trends by utilising historical data, enabling early intervention before issues arise.

You will also be able to see which subjects have the highest success rates for graduation destinations, informing best practice and identifying potential opportunities for business collaboration or expansion.

4. Financial information

The bottom line is crucial. Monitoring spending and efficiency is easy with dashboards, and if everyone is using the same system of reporting, it assists the finance director and executive members in informing their strategy.

  • Budget holders can see at a glance how spending compares against their budget.
  • Finance directors can review departmental spending throughout the year to inform future budget allocation.
  • They can also compare academic and service area spending.

5. Demographic data

Most universities have an eclectic mix of students in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and place of origin.

Dashboards allow you to examine your data more closely, informing marketing and recruitment initiatives. This can also be linked with other areas to spot any links. Are students from certain areas more likely to drop out? Has a certain course attracted more overseas students? Patterns can be identified to inform strategic thinking.

6. International issues

The international market is a lucrative area which needs constant analysis and tracking. With dashboards, it is easy to produce reports on trends, use data to identify potential emerging markets and keep track of student progress and potential problems. Student visas cost universities £67m over the last financial year, far more than they should have done; meticulous record-keeping can prevent any overspend and empower staff to overcome problems with complex system changes because records are kept in an easy-to-understand format.

Do it with dashboards

League tables and benchmarking are a fact of university life. Business analytics vary across institutions but dashboards can prevent departments working as silos. They give real-time data access, in an easy-to-understand format.

Dashboards work with existing data sources to provide a single output for all critical information, so they complement systems such as SITS, a student records management system used to store, administer and manage all aspects of student information from initial enquiry and application through to Degree Congregation.

Saving time and money while increasing efficiency, dashboards enable successful KPI monitoring and report production. When it comes to benchmarking, you really can't afford not to be using them.

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