Can TEC Survive Much Longer?

I am not noted for my warm feelings towards TEC, but the opinion piece by Tina Nixon in the Wairarapa Times Age was a doozy and in a league of its own. You can read it yourself, but here are just a couple of samples.

  • TEC is without a doubt one of the most bureaucratic organisations I have ever interacted with, and I have worked with a few.”
  • If the TEC and its current administration survive the next year, then this government will have failed the sector.”

I can’t compete with that, but I can supply a few thoughts on TEC’s current performance – or lack thereof. In all cases the problem seems to relate to a lack of consistency on the part of policy makers. One condition/policy/requirement contradicts another.

Fees Free

Admittedly TEC had very short notice to implement the Fees Free policy but over a year has gone by and they are still struggling. The wash-up return for 2018 was initially scheduled for 11 January 2019 but after receiving a lot of complaints the return date was extended to 16 January. This is where it gets tricky because the Fees Free return will not necessarily match data to be reported through the SDR which is not due until 31 January 2019. For example, a student who started in 2018 with a programme running into 2019 notifies the provider on 17 January that they will not be returning – i.e. they are withdrawing. The provider can record that for the SDR but it will have missed the Fees Free return on 16 January.

Youth Guarantee

The 2019 funding conditions 4.1 and 5.4 contradict each other.

  • 4.1 defines 1 EFTS as 100 credits.
  • 5.4 defines 1 EFTS as 120 credits.

 Go figure!

Until this issue is resolved YG providers would be ill-advised to start enrolling students because they may inadvertently contravene other YG funding conditions.

Funding Source 03 – Domestic Full Fee Paying Students

The Single Data Return Manual states that all students must be reported through the SDR, including non-funded students. However, from the 2018 version 2 edition of the SDR manual the use of Funding Source 03 – Domestic Full Fee Paying Students was changed to exclude students validly repeating courses already completed in a TEC funded programme. This is a practice that was applied to a student who withdrew from a programme several years ago but who returns to complete it and – at their own wish and the wish of the training provider – wants to repeat the few courses already successfully completed, paying a fee to do so. There is now no funding source code that can be applied to these enrolments and so how can they be reported?

Single Data Return – NOT

Those of us with elephantine memories will remember the advent of the Single Data Return which was glibly sold on the basis that it was going to be the one return that rules us all. The grand idea was that there would be one, and only one, reporting mechanism and that would satisfy all data collection and monitoring requirements on the part of all agencies with an interest in the Tertiary Sector.

Even now in 2018 the SDR Manual misleadingly states “The SDR provides one central point for the collection, processing and delivery of information from TEOs to education agencies.”

Over the years other reporting mechanism have been implemented. How do you report to NZQA, how do you report to StudyLink, did you use the Electronic Receipting System (ERS) developed and discarded by TEC? And now we all suffer from dealing with TEC’s Workspace 2 – the kind of reporting mechanism that was presumably designed by a spreadsheet enthusiast and is destined to be replaced.

In fairness to TEC in 2009 work was started on a replacement to the SDR. This was the Tertiary Learner Event Collection (“TLEC”) which, as the project faltered, then became the Tertiary Learner Event Project (“TLEP”), only to be abandoned in 2013 after $2.7 million had been expended and it had to be written off.

The ill-fated UIP (Unfunded International Provider) return was cobbled together from 2016 onwards by the Ministry of Education for a single purpose and without – by the Ministry’s admission – any input from TEC; although NZQA airily told us it would become a “Universal Record of Achievement”. That project must have cost well over $1 million to develop and has ongoing costs.

In addition to the millions of dollars being expended by the tertiary agencies there is of course also the compliance cost to the TEOs.

Not to be left out in the cold TEC at the end of 2016 started to hint at a replacement for the SDR to be developed from 2017 and ready for use in 2020. Several individuals from the sector were asked if they would be open to consultation in 2017. They weren’t asked and have heard nothing since.

But anyway, it did seem like it might be time to check with TEC what is occurring. So, I asked “Please can you provide me with information on any plans to replace the Single Data Return?” This very polite request – using the Official Information Act – has so far elicited the following response.

“Thank you for your email of 19 June 2018 requesting the following information:

please can you provide me with information on any plans to replace the Single Data Return?

Your request necessitates a search through a large quantity of information. In addition, the consultations necessary to make a decision on the request are such that a proper response cannot reasonably be made within the original time limit. Therefore, the TEC is extending the time limit for responding to your request  by 15 working days. The TEC will respond to your request as soon as possible but no later than 7 August 2018.”

I almost felt guilty that I could be the cause of such consternation, but I guess I’ll get over that. The scary bit about the response are these words: “the consultations necessary to make a decision on the request”.

The cynic in me, and past experience, suggests that they just mean that TEC needs another 15 days to construct a response along the lines that the information must be withheld because of commercial confidentiality; or to notify me of the vast cost to TEC of compiling a response. A cost I could not cover.

Somehow, I doubt though that they can use the cost argument since my original request elicited an invitation from TEC to meet for a briefing. The meeting would take an hour I was informed. You will understand that I had to turn down this offer because a meeting of this type with a verbal exchange of information has, in the past, proved to be far from satisfactory.

It is one thing to say something, and another to write it.

Fishing Trip

Did you receive an email from TEC recently which stated “We have been working with StudyLink to monitor whether TEOs are reporting confirmed student enrolments correctly. Our analysis indicates that your organisation may have some enrolments that met the requirement for being reported under SoF 31 but were not reported in the SDR.

The email went on to say “Please review your enrolment data and if necessary, report any confirmed student enrolments that may not have been reported in August.”

Now, if TEC actually thinks you have confirmed enrolments which you have not reported, why don’t they give you the details instead of sending you off on a hunt without any guidance as to where to look?

Two of my clients have had TEC’s email and, on investigation, could not identify any unreported confirmed enrolments.

This would appear to be a case of TEC wantonly increasing your stress levels and compliance costs as part of an unnecessary fishing trip.

SDR – Data Mine

It is probably true to say that the Single Data Return (SDR) is not very popular. It seems to be a regular chore which gets trickier as the years tick by. The introduction of reporting confirmed enrolments in the August SDR, if it eventually happens, should make this round particularly challenging.

However, there is another side to the SDR that not many of us think about. It is the key source of data for TEC. TEC puts the data to three obvious uses.

·         Managing funding.

·         Measuring performance.

·         Monitoring compliance.

TEC funds you on the basis of the course enrolment data supplied through the SDR. TEC measures your performance on the basis of outcome data supplied through the SDR and, latterly, TEC monitors your compliance by analysing all the data supplied through the SDR.

For many of us the SDR is daunting because it is simply a jumble of numbers and letters.

However, with the right tool this data can be a very powerful reporting instrument. If your student management system doesn’t provide the reports you need, you may be able to get the required information from those pesky SDR files.

Please contact me if you would like to discuss what type of reports you require, or you would like to find out more about mining your SDR data.

Where to the Single Data Return?

The greybeards amongst us may recall the arrival of the Single Data Return (SDR) in 2000. The introduction to an early SDR Manual stated “The Tertiary Education Review white paper introduced in 2000 the concept of an SDR which incorporates all the information required [my emphasis] for the purposes of funding students as well as information required for statistical reporting purposes.” Note the “all the information required” claim.

The latest SDR Manual makes an even bolder claim. In this manual you can read the following. “The SDR provides one central point for the collection, processing and delivery of information from TEOs to education agencies.”

Each claim is nonsense as anyone who has filled in TEC Excel returns or the Ministry’s RS20, well knows.

Since 2000 there have been recurrent initiatives to collect data using more modern technology than text files. There was TEC’s Electronic Receipting System of 2006 (abandoned in 2012), and the TEC’s Tertiary Learner Event Collection (TLEC) started in 2011 and abandoned by 2014 after expenditure in the millions of dollars.

More recently the Unfunded International Provider return (UIP) was initiated in 2014 with a goal of full implementation by July 2015. It’s nearly mid-2017 now and there are still providers who have not made the return. Meanwhile well over a million dollars has been spent.

An interesting feature of the UIP has been that it was a joint venture of the NZQA and the Ministry. TEC seemed to have no involvement.

So the SDR sails ever onwards with endless tweaks, and ever increasing compliance costs for providers. The most recent change is supposed to come into effect with the August 2017, and not as originally scheduled in March 2016. I suspect, though, that the change won’t be implemented in August because there are still too many loose ends in TEC’s documentation.

Meanwhile I understand that TEC is once more entering into the fray, with a scoping project for an SDR replacement. It will be nice if it happens. I hope they have deep pockets.

Confirmed Enrolments – The Diagram

Sometimes a diagram can be useful. Hopefully this one will help understand reporting confirmed enrolments.

Confirmed Enrolment

April Single Data Return

 This post was edited on the afternoon of 7 April to reflect the fact that SDR dates had been changed at the last minute by the MoE.

It’s that time of year again. The April SDR has an extract date of 15 April and originally had to be submitted in the period from 16 April until 29 April inclusive. MoE and TEC seem to have remembered at the last minute that 29 April is a Saturday and that both Easter and ANZAC day fall in the submission period. Earlier today the period for submission was changed to be from 10 to 28 April.

Here are a couple of other things to think about in preparing for the SDR round.

1.      You must ensure that any qualification or course for which data is being reported has been approved by TEC.

2.      If you have not yet increased tuition and compulsory course cost fees for 2017, now is the time to do so up to the permissible maximum of 2%.

3.      If for any reason you need to re-submit a December 2016 SDR you must do so (with TEC’s permission) prior to 16 April.

4.      The April SDR is you last chance to submit 2016 course and qualification completions for inclusion in the published 2016 Education Performance Indicators.

On a lighter (sadder?) note this is a record year for TEC and MoE’s (mis)management of the SDR. It is the first time you will be going into the exercise without knowing from the STEO web site that your student management system has been certified. Also the SDR Manual applicable to the return was only updated on 7 April, replacing the December 2016 manual which contained misleading information.

 

New Models of Tertiary Education

There can’t be many people who can honestly claim to have read the Productivity Commission’s new magnum opus “New Models of Tertiary Education”. I’m certainly not one, but I did search the document for any evidence that the Commission has recognised that inadequate and sometimes inaccurate data is being collected by the agencies responsible for managing the tertiary education sector.

I did find the following comment which quickened my pulse, especially the last sentence. “Good quality assurance and good information both become more important in a tertiary education system with fewer controls on inputs, more at stake for providers, and more empowered student consumers. It is important that agency roles and responsibilities in these regards are clear.”

And I did find some mention of using data analytics to trigger academic and pastoral interventions, and making smarter use of data especially in relation to collecting increasingly reliable and relevant performance data. All good stuff, but I searched in vain for mention of a proper replacement of our old friend the Single Data Return.

This elephant still sits stubbornly in the room meaning, ironically, that the Commission itself would not have had all the information it required to do its job.

Indicative Single Data Return

The Indicative Single Data Return (SDR) is due to be reported via STEO by Wednesday 8 March with a nominal extract date of 1 March. The return is to include enrolments and student data for all enrolments in your student management system whether the students have started their studies or not. In theory, then, if you were to have processed enrolments for a second semester these records should be included in the return.

No outcome data is reported via the Indicative SDR.

At the time that the Indicative return was proposed there was much debate about the return date, largely focused on whether the data being collected would really be useful to “to give early indicators of demand shifts and trends that may impact vote management and policy impacts.”

Students at most TEIs are able to cancel or change their enrolments well into March. For many PTEs obtaining NZQA and TEC approvals for new qualifications has been a lengthy process with delays that mean enrolments cannot be processed until after 8 March.

So is the Indicative return a useful policy tool or just another compliance burden dreamed by policy analysts?