3. From your perspective, what are the emerging areas of interest in institutional research?
An enduring business issue for higher education is that the sector’s sustainability derives primarily from baseload government funding – which is subject to political uncertainty and competing policy objectives – and from students’ tuition fees, especially from international students. Universities are seeking ways to broaden our sustainability and relevance, and it is critical that we understand the elements that really matter from the perspectives of our key stakeholders, rather than simply those elements that are easy to measure. This relies on a nuanced understanding of what value and quality mean to different groups.
Meanwhile, technology and automation are accelerating the volume, spread, and pace of data becoming available, so a constantly-changing area of interest is identifying the appropriate algorithms, analytical techniques, tools, and technology solutions to deploy at a realistic and affordable scale. Complementing this, we also need to consider organisational options – e.g. the extent to which institutional research should blend formal concentration of resourcing within a central unit, with hub-and-spokes clusters, with outsourced insights, with dispersed organic grass-roots initiatives supported by communities of practice.
Finally, there are emerging ways of applying data analytics in our approaches to prioritising resources between initiatives; managing the performance of academic offerings, support services, teams, and initiatives; segmenting markets; structuring our organisations; efficiently targeting relevant support initiatives to the students they will benefit; planning and optimising our space; blending our physical and digital offerings; and more.