Finland’s largest University of Applied Sciences invests in the quality of information

mp_antti_tikkaMetropolian’s ambition is to become the most respected University of Applied Sciences within the Finnish education community – recognized for its teaching ability at both first and higher degree levels – by 2014. Metropolian’s implementation of strategy, action and achievement of goals are being evaluated systematically. Day-to-day operations are being developed and improved based on the results and input from the evaluation and feedback systems. In addition, the findings are regularly reported to both internal and external interest groups such as the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, Statistics Finland and other authorities. This information is provided by legacy systems which deliver high quality, validated data.

All educational institutions have a Student Administration System where the key data is stored. This system contains student-specific information such as student records, courses, grades awarded and graduation statistics. All of this information is important, but some specific data directly affects the finances of the University. Because the basic funding of the institution has a direct relationship to degrees completed, it is therefore crucial that graduation data is correctly recorded in the system. The student administration system in Metropolia has a master user. Additionally, the system is being used by, amongst others, teachers, the student affairs office, the applications office and staff in different degree programmes. An automatic data validation tool has been implemented in Metropolia to improve the data quality. The tool includes a list of rules, maintained by the master user, which flags errors in content and structure in the systems and automatically turns these into a daily error report. This software contains a list of criteria, maintained by the master user, which recognizes errors in content and structure in the systems and automatically produces a daily error report.

Search for errors shifts from reports to a tool

Before the introduction of the automatic data validation tool, any mis-entered details – for example, recognition of credits from other universities, missing graduation dates, reasons for dropping out, and so on – had to be traced through Microsoft Access reports.

This was very time consuming and unreliable, and a lot of consideration had to be given to how different individuals may have documented the information. ”If you don’t know how information was entered, it is very difficult to trace the error” says Planner Pirkko Niskanen, The Student Administration System Master User. Furthermore, in the previous system, no cross-validation rules or orphan checks could be made to ensure that, for example, a course actually existed which matched a credit awarded to a particular student.

When the tool was first implemented, the number of errors highlighted by its rule criteria ran into several thousands. This number has already been reduced to around a thousand since the process was completed. The ensuing error list is processed according to the DSV principle* and the errors were corrected in the Student administration system by Mid-Summer 2011. From now on, the data will be checked weekly for errors and updated. “The process is continually being modified and updated along with the error list” Database specialist and system developer, Antti Tikka explains. “A faster method of updating the error list is on our wish list for the future”

Currently any corrections made to the system are removed from the error list within two days. A new version of the validation tool is due to be released soon, which will significantly improve the performance and enable virtually real time data validation.

Saving time during the statistics period and producing valid quarterly reports

There are two key periods in a year, when statistics are collated: in January statistics are reported to a number of Government Ministries; and in September student statistics i.e. student numbers to Statistics Finland. “During the statistics period, I need accurate information instantly. There are too many other things to do without having to search for errors and fix them. Delays used to be a real problem”, Pirkko says.

From now on Metropolia management can monitor the execution of strategy and goals, and react as required, now that more valid information is provided in quarterly reports. Previously, information was available once a year and the reporting procedure was lengthy and difficult. In future, it will be possible to extend the use of the validation tool to other legacy systems, such as human resources and the financial systems. One potential application could be the graduation system, which contains a lot of information on students and must be accurate.