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.

What do you think?