5th October 2017

Out with the old, in with the newDLHE

Martin Edmondson and Professor Richard Blackwell

We wrote a pamphlet for HEPI on the emergent TEF plans in the autumn last year (http://www.hepi.ac.uk/2016/09/... ) and passed some comment on DLHE, and in this post we revisit some of those points in the light of planned changes to DLHE.

The consultation on new DLHE finishes today, and it is very much in line with what HESA outlined to the AGCAS Heads conference in January- 15 month collection point, centralised collection, additional rich data question sets and student voice.

DLHE was overdue a review, and has been used and abused for a long time, but we remain to be convinced whether these changes will ultimately change certain aspects of DLHE for the better. However, this consultation document feels pretty much set in stone – and to be fair to the tireless Dan Cook from HESA, there was plenty of proper consultation earlier on, and it has been a very robust process.

Centralisation and gaming:

One of the things that slightly surprised us was the extent to which actual or perceived gaming of DLHE seemed to have influenced the decision to go for a central DLHE. The respective HESA charts of different stakeholder opinions showed that most universities wanted to retain control and all other stakeholders wanted centralisation. The two sides of this debate tell us what we already knew, that universities want to control it as they know it helps them better ‘control’ results, and other stakeholders want it collected more neutrally.

Whilst we all know gaming happens, much of it is benign. Perhaps like SKY and Dave Brailsford, it is best to characterise university approaches to DLHE gaming as being about 'going up to the line but not over it’. However, if this had ever been given proper scrutiny there might have been quite a few arguments about what constituted the ‘line’. Nonetheless the perceived concern about this seems to have been a factor in other stakeholders pushing for central collection.

The argument that centralisation was driven by cost reduction does not fully hold water. The figures in the consultation seem on the low side - we know many universities who invest a huge amount of time and money into DLHE collection and that does not seem to be reflected in the figures provided to HESA by universities. In addition various careers and registry people have declared in the last few months that they plan to run an interim survey between 6 and 15 months to establish how they are getting on and decide if they need to put in place any last minute DLHE rescue interventions.

So will centralisation stop the gaming that it seems to be aiming at? Well the new proposal creates a sort of Faustian pact between the institution, HESA and the new survey company.

HESA need collection levels to be as near as possible to 70% and universities need their results to stay positive. As such HESA have made universities complicit in getting to the levels they need

Keep universities out of it and the collection rate will plummet. Keep them in and they could potentially still game it through selection of respondents. Will the contact details of medics and teachers be more reliably maintained than the records of students from less job-secure courses?

Timing and response rates:

Universities gave a very clear signal that they wanted a later DLHE census date, with an especially strong lobby from the careers world on this front. However there are likely to be a number of casualties from this switch:

Data comparison – DLHE provides a genuinely rich and comprehensive data set going back many years. This allows comparison over time and robust analysis when it comes to boosting graduate employment outcomes on courses and programmes. Higher Education is generally a defender of long term data sets, so it seems odd that this one is expendable.

Response rates – The primary victim, as pointed out in a wide range of articles and blogposts, is likely to be response levels. The current 80% standard demanded of universities produces a detailed data picture that also enables subject level KIS data and imminently subject level TEF.

The numbers matter particularly for the government plans on subject level TEF. If the response rate drops to say 50% from the current 80% then there is a good chance that subject level TEF will be missing a big chunk of data. Whilst DLHE is only one component of TEF, it does appear to be quite an important one. It would also make KIS data less comprehensive for those trying to choose a course of study.

International comparison – In the US NACE recently introduced a recommended 6 month approach to destinations collection. Previously destination data in America has been truly Wild West style, and this is partly because colleges often put out two numbers, one that is from an actual proper survey and another from a trawl of LinkedIn profiles and the like.

Will we see the new contractor if they are behind on numbers utilising recherché methods such as going on a LinkedIn hunt? If so, who knows what results might emerge given the variable nature of LinkedIn information and the random nature of how that would be harvested when done centrally?

A few writers and bloggers have cited 6 month models in Canada and Australia as relevant points of comparison, and also examples of collection rates well below current UK DLHE levels.

Finally, current DLHE tells us that the best part of 93% of students are in work of further study by 6 months, which raises questions about the argument that somehow a 15 month collection point will be in line a with a trends towards ‘later flowering’. Admittedly this might apply when it comes to graduate-level jobs, but overall the choice of date feels somewhat arbitrary. The benefits of the switch may well be outweighed by the negatives.

Final thoughts:

Despite criticism of old DLHE and TEF over recent months, we have seen them stimulate innovation and effort from universities focused on supporting students into long term and fulfilling careers, enabled by well-developed employability strategies. We genuinely hope that the changes to DLHE won’t inadvertently lead to the emphasis being taken away from this important work, because at the moment universities in the UK are delivering some of the most innovative and effective activity in this field in the world.

Whatever happens we are looking forward to debating some of these points with Dan Cook and others at the Graduate Employment Conference in Nottingham in May (details here: http://www.gradcore.co.uk/gec1... )