Computing Services

The department behind IT services at the University of Bath

Posts By: Kiran Oza

Sulis Minerva Day - from a male perspective?

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📥  Uncategorized

Sulis Minerva Day logo

Today was Sulis Minerva Day at the University of Bath and it was spectacular. From the Vice-Chancellor's welcome and introduction, keynote lectures from inspiring leaders (who happen to be female), lively panel discussion (including men and women) and insightful and challenging questions from the audience, I'm left with my head reeling from a myriad of thoughts and ideas on the challenges - and what can I do to play my (small) part in effecting the change.

In her introduction, Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell rattled off a long list of engineers and scientists who were not appreciated or recognised for their achievements, because they were female in a world where males were almost universally the only ones recognised. She concluded with the challenge that it's not only about giving women the opportunity, but that society needs to focus efforts on women's impact, recognition and visibility.

Louise Kingham (is there a better bio?) asserted that women are disproportionately affected by climate change and that seeking solutions without women is like having one hand tied behind your back. She highlighted the excellent work of POWERful WOMEN, which "showcases women in the energy sector", Solar Sister, which "eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity", and the Women Barefoot Solar Engineers, who supply "their communities with clean, low-cost household lighting from solar energy".

Professor Dame Linda Partridge showed us the science behind Ageing Healthily, that women invariably hold the records for longevity, and that dietary restriction (stop eating so much) and exercise (at least do some!) are the key to living longer, but that it is very difficult to get people to change. Depressingly (in my opinion), her conclusions were that we need to develop safe anti-ageing drugs since 'people will swallow anything' - I'd like to hope that we can all play our part to make it a societal norm to eat less and exercise more.

I'm a long-time follower (on Twitter, not a stalker) of Professor Dame Athene Donald, and it was my great pleasure to have a few minutes this morning to introduce myself to her. She was awarded an honorary degree today from the University, and followed this with her keynote lecture, "Do I look like a physicist?" She delivered, with great eloquence, her career history where it was evident she wasn't only a physicist but was claimed by the audience as a materials scientist, a plant scientist and a chemist!

For me though, the take-home message of her talk was, "If you get a chance for media training, take it - you never know when a microphone will be stuck under in your face."

The panel discussion, "Pioneers & Pathways: Shaping the future in STEM", was chaired by Professor Carole Mundell and the panel comprised: Dawn Bonfield, Simon Cooper, Dr Patrick Goymer, Dr Emily Grossman, and Professor Melanie Welham. In a wide-ranging discussion the overriding theme for me was how to encourage and inspire women into science - and how much of the problem is due to teachers, parents and society discouraging girls at an early age, overtly or as a result of unconscious bias?

One of the questions from the audience asked, "If we get more women into roles this will negatively affect (mediocre) men - is that OK?" To which the panel unanimously agreed but remember there's a huge skills shortage and we need to ensure that we act in a non-threatening manner. The Chair noted that there's a web tool (this one: that checks for gender bias in references. Have a go and see if your references are gender-biased (unconsciously, of course).

The panel also discussed topics relating to flexible working, and whether getting more women into (leadership) roles requires men to play their part by taking up parental leave, part-time and job share opportunities. It made me wonder: if "diverse teams deliver the best decisions", perhaps we need to get more leadership roles to be appointed as job shares, so the role itself is a diverse position?

Off to check on the gender diversity in my own department, Computing Services. Well, tomorrow - after all, need to keep up the work-life balance, get more exercise and eat less...

CIS and tell


📥  Computing Services

ICYMI acronyms and initialisms are everywhere. Yes, I'm inviting comments to help me learn a few more that I could have included - and why not! Sharing knowledge and information is a critical part of our community.

This is my first blog post at the University of Bath: I started in January 2017 and I've been to 3 conferences/events already, so I need to catch up with blogging my notes if I'm to be allowed out to any future events. The first event was cryptically entitled CISG-UCISA-HESA-SLC and was my first opportunity to be involved with the Corporate Information Systems Group (CISG), which is a sub-group of Universities and Colleges Information Services Association (UCISA). Speakers included the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the Student Loans Company (SLC). They also included the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) although I'm not sure why they didn't make it onto the event title; perhaps CISG-UCISA-HESA-SLC-ICO-UCAS just didn't trip off the tongue quite so easily...

Andy Youell (HESA) is always an entertaining speaker and despite having heard him give this talk before, it was still delightful to learn about "The Changing Information Landscape". Andy reminded us that the Higher Education (HE) sector has been doing data collections since 1965 (through UCCA at the time) and there are now over 500 HE data collections across 90 organisations. The Data Landscape Steering Group has been set up to ensure collective governance for these collections, to seek a better way, more efficient and joined up. There's also the potential for HESA to become the statutory data collection body for HE with a duty to reduce burden on the sector - more about that in the later Data Futures talk (keep reading). There is a twin agenda - standardisation and rationalisation - and a standard is a 'specification that is adopted'. The data landscape requires the development of a common language, through HECoS and the widening adoption of a Unique Learner Number (ULN) for students. The changing landscape also encompasses emerging data capabilities: did you know that an Excel worksheet has 17 billion cells - and that 88% of workbooks have errors (Panko, 2008)? Andy closed his talk with a call to action, referring to the HEDIIP research on Data Capability (2015) which identified a maturity model comprising 5 levels: chaotic, reactive, stable, proactive and predictive.

Sam Stokell and Graeme Lindsay (SLC) informed us of Current and Future Developments at the Student Loans Company. As of 20 Oct 2016, they had received 1.45m full-time (FT) undergraduate (UG) applications and processed 1.37m of these. Additionally they had received 81,000 post-graduate (PG) loan applications, processing payments for 56,000, with a total of £4.2bn in maintenance & tuition fees being administered through the company. Astonishing! They provided updates on a number of policy changes coming in 2017/18 and encouraged HEIs to provide course information in a timely manner (at the time, 50% had been collected).

Victoria Cetinkaya (ICO) presented an informative (and only slightly scary) talk titled "Information Rights in a Changing Landscape". The Information Commissioner's Office is an independent organisation whose remit is to uphold information rights and they have a new Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham. The ICO is often asked to consider cases arising from the challenges of Freedom of Information (FOI): the duty to document versus transparency in outsourcing (report due to Parliament in 2017). They also respond to incidents resulting from cyber security attacks, analysing trends such as exfiltration, DDoS, system misconfiguration and other cyber incidents. She also reminded us of the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will be in force 25 May 2018 (despite Brexit) and applies to universities as Data Controllers. Anonymisation and pseudonomysation of data are good options, and GDPR will cover 'special categories' such as genetic and biometric data. It encompasses the existing 8 Data Protection principles and adds Accountability. Further guidance on GDPR is on the ICO website at: Organisations will need implement technical measures to comply and demonstrate compliance; universities may need to appoint a dedicated Data Protection Officer. There will be a requirement to report a data breach within 72 hours of detection, and maximum fines will increase from £500,000 to €20,000,000. Individuals will have 8 new rights: to be informed; to have access; to rectification; to erasure (the right to be forgotten); to restrict processing; to data portability; to object; rights related to automated decision making & profiling. Consent will only be considered relevant if people have a genuine choice.

Fatuma Mahad (UCAS) took us on a journey "From Clearing House to Digital Ecosystem", where she reminded us that UCAS is the world's only national centralised organisation processing applications to HE. They receive 800,000 applications each year, have 6,000 regional centres and cover 388 universities & colleges, and 1,200 schools. Their peak processing times include A-level results day where the website receives 5.5m pageviews and 239 logins/sec on Track (where applicants go to review and update their choices). In 2014, UCAS focused on a journey to adopt cloud technologies, outsourcing their work to Infosys while retaining in-house development. In 2015, their orientation was around a broader learner journey with enterprise-wide adoption of Agile methodology and thinking. This focused on value flow, quality, releasing products early and often, and organised around 5 Rs (review, refine, resize, reprioritise, regular cadence). This programme resulted in ~40% reduction of their on-premise technology footprint along with an investment in data science capability. In 2016, their theme was Digital Acceleration, focusing on SOA, ESB, IAM, CRM (Salesforce), mobile and cloud first. They instilled a digital workplace using Microsoft Office365 and SharePoint, with a 2020 technology strategy that is 'evolutionary, not revolutionary'. Looking forward, UCAS will focus on collection and search tools, application management and operational reporting for peer benchmarking. Their roadmap includes: iterative, continuous improvement after go-live; beta services for users to try out; and managing the results embargo to promote a 'zero-breach culture' (more on this in a later post from UCISA17).

Rob Phillpotts (HESA) closed the day with an update on "HESA Data Futures", which aims to make data better - while noting that "there will be pain before we get better data...." This programme involves more frequent data collection and aligned to business process, more timely with better data - in year and with a new data model (yay!) HESA will act as a data hub with a new, more agile system, with the potential to connect to existing data for time series reporting. The aim of this is to transform the 2019/20 student data collection, which requires a new software platform - Rob's looking for volunteers to help with the resource challenge of this work. Collection design v2 was out at the time and v3 out by end January 2017. The programme is working with alpha/beta groups and software suppliers. Data will be submitted in segments not a single file (S0-S6).


2017/18 will involve alpha pilots from 12 HE providers (HEPs) UK wide, looking at pilot concepts and prototypes. 2018/19 will be beta pilots of 500-100 HEPs self-selected and end-to-end testing. 2019/20 will be live for institution including changes to student records software (e.g. Tribal SITS - 'Samis' at UoB) and a data submission 'crunch point' moving to much better data from there on. Rob urged us to speak to our Registrars to give feedback on the programme.

All in all, it was a super day: I met many new people and afterwards 'linked-up' so as many as I could - it's the only way I remember people these days (via LinkedIn). Let me know if you have any questions about the talks - I'm happy to meet up over tea/coffee or just a stroll around campus!