Universities: the need to present better information

I recently attended a meeting attended by people some of whom worked in universities and some who did not. We were discussing the future of the Irish university system, and a number of questions were asked about key performance indicators showing activities and outputs from the sector. Nobody had any of the figures to hand, nor could offer even a rough estimate. Since then I have been trawling the websites of the universities to see if I could assemble the data that way, and I had to conclude that I cannot. Some metrics for the sector as a whole are published and made available by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), but others are not. Some details that are published are fairly successfully hidden away on the institutions’ websites; so for example I wanted to find the most recent audited accounts for one particular university, and by searching persistently for about 30 minutes I did eventually find them – but most would have long given up by then.

One of the charges that have been levelled at universities in recent years is that they don’t release and publish and draw attention to key information in a timely manner, or indeed at all. Taking the same university again, I tried to see whether I could on its website get information on student progression and retention; or the gender an racial/ethnic breakdown of staff generally and according to grade. Well, if this information is available there, it is so well hidden I could not find it.

It is fair to say that, probably, we have all been bad at maintaining openness and transparency in these ways. Getting key information to a wider audience is part of what we need to do in confidence building if we are to have broader public support. We must not see the disclosure of information as a threat, or something to be defensive about, but rather as an opportunity to engage our stakeholders. Doing this also avoids the perhaps even worse suspicion or fear that we do not publish such information because, in fact, we don’t have it ourselves. In which case one might wonder how we are able to devise our strategies.

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One Comment on “Universities: the need to present better information”

  1. belfield Says:

    The thing about ‘performance indicators’ is that they usually don’t offer anything other than a decontextualised and desiccated rendering of complex and shifting realities. And they certainly don’t represent performance in anything other than caricature. Why policy makers fetishise them so, I just don’t understand.


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