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Course Data - University of Essex

Funded by the: Jisc e-Learning programme.

Lead Institution: University of Essex.

Learner Provider Type: Higher Education

Project Duration: January 2012 - March 2013

Key Words: Course Data

Case study tags: course data, process improvement, enterprise architecture (ea), stakeholder engagement, course information, university of essex

Note: This is an abridged version of this project's final report.  The full version is available here.



University of Essex

Service Orientated Feeds for Advertising Courses using XCRI-CAP (SOFACX)


Project Summary

The central objective of our project was to develop and implement an XCRI-CAP feed publishing service for the production of clear course information based on a universal standard, across the entire breadth of the University’s offering, in order to meet a range of new and existing internal and external needs for information and information exchange. 


We have successfully developed this service and are in a position to provide data which, under the terms of the Open Government licence, is freely available to any aggregator or other user, organisation or individual to copy, re-distribute, share, adapt and exploit commercially or otherwise. This includes information about all our taught courses that lead to an award and about our research degree programmes. We are particularly interested in working with external consumers of our course data who have expressed an intention or interest in receiving data using the XCRI-CAP standard, and will continue to explore such opportunities following conclusion of our project.


Our work on encompassing postgraduate research (PGR) degree provision in the XCRI-CAP feed publishing service may be of particular interest to colleagues elsewhere in the higher education sector. We have contributed to national discussion about the development of the aggregator standard for PGR provision, but it is clear that there are opportunities for further development and collaboration in this area, and we would welcome contact from colleagues in the sector to discuss this further.


A significant internal benefit of our participation in the Course Data Matters programme has been the establishment of an internal University project to deliver a fundamental re-structuring of our course records data on our in-house student records system. This will enable us to deliver comprehensive course information more effectively and consistently to all internal and external stakeholders, and will automatically render CPD course information accessible to the feed publishing service.


In common with many other participants in the Course Data Matters programme, we have also undertaken a wide-ranging and in-depth review of our course information management policy and processes. This has provided us with a platform for substantial improvement, which we expect to take forward within the next twelve months on completion of an internal re-structuring of our academic governance arrangements. We are particularly interested in developing an in-house system, based on SharePoint technology, to support a more efficient and effective course approval process. 


What did we learn?

Our participation in the Jisc Course Data Matters programme has given us opportunities to take a formal project management approach, using an experienced contract project manager, as well as to engage a contract programmer to undertake software development. We have gained confidence from this experience and intend to embed this approach to investing in additional contract resource to achieve successful project outcomes in future.


We have also benefited from participation, both as recipients and contributors, in a national community of specialist practitioners. It has been useful to work collaboratively with colleagues elsewhere in the sector on the development of a national standard. In common with the majority of projects, however, the major learning points for us have been internal, about the importance of developing institution-wide policies and procedures for course data management, and of establishing collaborative, cross-functional team-working to ensure the most effective and efficient delivery of course information to meet internal and external customers.


We were unable to complete the full scope of the original project and benefited from learning as a team how to adjust objectives in response to internal and external factors, while still focusing and achieving the completion of core project deliverables within the overall timeframe of the project.


Immediate Impact

We have successfully produced an XCRI-CAP publishing feed service and secured an Open Government licence to make this data available for public consumption. We feel prepared to engage with external consumers of our data, such as UCAS, as soon as they decide to adopt the XCRI-CAP standard. This will save significant amounts of staff in preparing course data manually and will ensure that our data quality is consistent.


Our engagement on the technical side of the project has brought some benefit to fellow programme participants and future aggregation services. Our relatively early submission of our full feed to the k-int aggregator service, containing more content than others already submitted, revealed an issue that needed fixing for other institutions to be able to fully test their content.


We have engaged a range of internal stakeholders in our work on the SOFACX project and have laid an important foundation for a variety of internal projects to improve data structures, and data management policies and processes, which are in different stages of approval and initiation. The SOFACX project has acted as an important hub in bringing together and integrating a number of projects, which would otherwise have been developed in parallel streams. The extent to which cross-functional working and shared vision have been established across different teams, especially those operating in the Registry and Marketing and Student Recruitment, is testament to the positive impact the SOFACX project has had on our internal data management functions.


Future Impact

We have shared our work on the development of our XCRI-CAP publishing feed service with colleagues across the sector and are committed to continue our collaborative approach. Perhaps the most significant contribution we believe we can make is to the further development of the XCRI-CAP standard to encompass PGR provision in future. 



Overall, the SOFACX project has been extremely successful in delivering its core technical requirements and has produced positive results in engaging a wide cross-section of business stakeholders in discussions relating to the status, quality and origination of course data.


The wider HE community should note that engagement in a technical project, especially one dealing with critical business data of this nature, will necessarily invoke a wider set of concerns than simply ‘delivering a data feed’ and that preparation for this eventuality alongside early and frequent engagement with all key stakeholders is the best way to succeed in delivering objectives. Addressing such problems in an environment that is open to approaches such as Enterprise Architecture and Lean will have a positive impact on the examination of existing process and ‘datascaping’/data modelling exercises as well as naturally drawing in participants from across the institution who are well used to engaging with colleagues in a context of critical examination of existing policy. It will also mean that the longer term benefits relating to output will be better captured and taken forwards by key stakeholders.


At the time of writing this report it is difficult to assess the long term impact that publishing an XCRI-CAP feed will have on our ability to serve data to those external consumers identified by Figure 3: XCRI-CAP feed Service Map. UCAS are yet to make a firm commitment to using the feeds, though they have made some positive comments and are including it in current review activities. Graduate Prospects have indicated that they will be a primary customer for feeds, operating as an aggregator for postgraduate course information, which is a positive factor in evaluating the value of implementing an XCRI-CAP feed, but outside of this single example there are few customers for feed data coming forward. Much of the longer term success of the feeds will depend on the existence of high quality aggregation services taking the contents of XCRI-CAP feeds and combining it with other sources of sector data for the benefit of potential students, and whilst there are undeniable internal institutional benefits connected with participation in this Jisc programme, the University of Essex eagerly awaits further engagement with information re-publishers and aggregation services.



Our main recommendation would be for the XCRI-CAP standard to consider including provision for ‘tutor’ or ‘supervisor’ data within course presentation elements. Without the addition of elements for communicating the involvement of specific academic staff, particularly in the case of postgraduate research degree courses, it is difficult for an XCRI-CAP feed to communicate adequately one of the core components that forms the decision base for course choice for potential students in this area.


Additionally, we would recommend that Jisc lead on engagement activity with key consumers of course data, such as UCAS, to reinforce the benefits for non-programme participants committing to the development of their own course data feeds to build a full picture of course information in the UK Higher and Further Education sectors.


Further details: email and contact names etc

Project Director        Joanne Tallentire

Project Manager       Joanne Tallentire; Rob Mossop

Contact email            joannet@essex.ac.uk; rwmoss@essex.ac.uk

Project Web URL     http://www.essex.ac.uk/projects/course_data