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Aug 25, 2004

DRS collects data for Higher Education’s largest survey

Data capture specialists DRS, has confirmed that it has successfully completed the time-critical and complex data collection exercise for the Open University’s (OU) Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. DRS provided full logistical support, questionnaire follow up, data capture and validation for the project to obtain information from in excess of 12,000 OU graduates, and all within the challenging deadlines set by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

Twice a year HESA requires every higher education institution in the UK to conduct a DLHE survey, representing a snapshot of graduate activities six months after completion of their course. It is conducted every January and April. In line within the legal framework in which HESA operates, the survey requires an 80% response rate from graduates to ensure the Statistics Agency receive a comprehensive and representative sample of results throughout the UK.

With such a high number of graduates to contact and the complex data collection requirements involved, the OU recognised that the logistics of carrying out this survey was going to put a huge pressure on its existing administrative resource and take a great deal of time. This was something which the OU simply could not achieve in the tight timeframe set out by HESA, and decided to outsource the entire project to data capture specialist DRS.

Due to the highly specialist nature of the DLHE questionnaire and the high level of accuracy dictated by HESA, it was necessary for DRS to overprint the existing A3 standard HESA forms with a number of features to ensure the data could be collected quickly and accurately. In addition to the name and address, barcodes were required along with a student ID number and a PIN number to allow students to log into a web version of the questionnaire so they could also respond electronically, which in itself was powered by a secure back-end database developed by DRS.

After the initial phase of data collection via direct mailings, postcard reminders and trained interviewers using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing techniques (CATI), the completed survey forms were collected and returned to the DRS Bureau facility. They were then collated with web and telephone responses and processed through a range of DRS Optical Mark Readers and Intelligent Character Recognition technology which performed unique data validation routines and electronically captured the survey data. In order to meet HESA regulations, all the questions needed to be completed and certain answers had to be categorised using Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes. A significant portion of DRS development time was allocated to the design of a bespoke software application, which would both ‘search and suggest’ possible codes, and also provide a drill-down type interface.

Combining this with special training for a dedicated team of DRS personnel ensured that this important aspect of the data management was carried out consistently, and accurate results were delivered within the tight timescales as stipulated by HESA.

‘Obtaining the data for the DLHE survey was always going to be a challenging job,’ commented Beverley Midwood at the Open University, ‘but the DRS team exceeded our expectations and we were able to deliver accurate results fast. We will definitely be using its services in the future.’

‘The OU is one of the largest educational institutions in the UK and the sheer size and range of graduates is vast,’ commented Tony Lee, managing director at DRS. ‘Combining this with one of the largest higher education surveys in the country, the only way the data was to be collected in time was through electronic data capture and validation.’