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Study Finds Universities Slow to Integrate and Use Data in Strategic Decision-Making

A new study, "Data Blind: Universities Lag in Capturing and Exploiting Data," conducted by UCLA School of Education and Information Studies professor Christine L. Borgman and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Press publisher and director Amy Brand, found that universities face serious challenges in capturing and using various data streams on campus, and these negatively impact decision-making ability.

The study, done in 2021, was published in Science in December 2022. The authors interviewed a dozen provosts, vice provosts, university librarians, and other officials engaged in university data governance and management.

Although universities produce a wealth of data in various departments across campus, such as "faculty research, prospective students, research funding, higher-education policy trends, and competitive intelligence about other universities," said the study's authors, coordinating all of it and making it available for use in decision-making has met significant barriers.

Reasons vary, but the main challenges are owing to a lack of investment in data infrastructure, centralized databases, and trained staff; concerns about corporate control of academic platforms and analytics; privacy, security, and risk management, especially at universities that have medical departments needing to comply with government regulations; and friction among university departments.

"One clear point of unanimity among participants was that tensions exist among stakeholders regarding who has access to particular data, appropriate uses of data, and mechanisms for data governance, privacy, and integration," said the study's authors.

They concluded that if universities could expand investments in data infrastructure and their data management capacity, as well as train personnel, it would improve their ability to "manage a range of data, and to mine it for strategic, policy, social, cultural and technical insights."

The study can be found here on the Science website.

Links to other research conducted by Borgman and colleagues can be found on her web page.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.

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