MIAP: Vision or Reality?

A personal view……..

 My colleague at CETIS, Mark Power recently published an update concerning the MIAP vision: a system driven by the Unique Learner Number that will collect data from a range of partners to support progression and advice and guidance for lifelong learning students. A number of partner provided data bases including the Learner Achievement Record, the UK Register of Learning Providers and the Qualification an Curriculum’s Framework details of fundable units of study will, according to the vision, underpin a range of exciting educational services. 

I recently attended a workshop for college management information systems staff covering progress to this ‘new information environment’. We were told that the ‘Unique Learner Number’ is being successfully allocated to individual students and will be included in college Individualised Student Record (ISR) returns (the key to individual college funding) from next year. The prospect that the ISR process would be superseded by ‘real time dips’ into Learner Achievement Records (cross-referenced to Learning Providers) was not on the table. Data collection would still firmly be in the hand of colleges. We were also told that progress to the vision of individuals being able to access, for CV builders and personal skills development and employment applications, their Learner Achievement Records containing details  from awarding bodies of the qualifications they had achieved was well on track. 

I felt that this latter statement was a bit optimistic  A pilot for much of the technology underpinning the vision is the Minerva system that will support assessment of the new (14-19) Diplomas by the aggregation of the achievements of the components that make up the qualification. The Unique Learner Number delivery system (as mentioned above) for this application is in place but I understand that the required UK Register of Learning Providers is not yet ready and awarding bodies are still at the investigation stage for the standards necessary for the data transfer. So how far are we away from the reality of a system that collects data from many sources to support student support and progression? 

I believe that there are two other challenges that still have to be faced. 

The first concerns comprehensive engagement with those non- government stakeholders involved in the process. The awarding bodies will need to be persuaded to give up ownership of student qualification achievement data. They argue that if others can make commercial use of this data then “why should they be excluded from such businees opportunities”. More importantly the users (the learners) have to be convinced that their achievement (and failure ?) data can be made safely available to other (all be it well meaning) agencies. A single ‘tick box’ on a course application form will not give the user the sensitivity to indicate which data can be released through MIAP to others. The whole climate surrounding personal data has also changed. Individuals are becoming increasingly aware that once data is released from a database it cannot be retrieved, however worthy the initial application. The government has not helped user confidence with its recent catalogue of data losses. The services of the new government ‘data agency’ that will collect ‘appropriate data’ will need to be monitored. As recent reports within The Times has demonstrated, a fear is bubbling up that these MIAP initiatives are part of a government inspired ‘big brother’ programme focussed on Identity Cards. 

The second challenge concerns transparency over the real cost of these developments. The cost per candidate for the Minerva system for the Diploma component aggregation process is already escalating. The cost benefit of the MIAP inspired services to the lifelong learner must be objectively assessed. If it all works, there are real benefits to the individuals but if the costs are too high then the private sector could cherry pick those services from the MIAP inspired catalogue of applications that can support their other educational products.  Opportunities for comprehensive interoperabilty and sharing  of data will be lost.

I wish MIAP and its vision of faciliating comprehensive data transfer well. The systems involved could underpin positive skills development for lifelong learners (and this includes HE students too!). I welcome the Learning and Skills Council’s initiative to pro-actively develop ‘focus groups’ to engage ‘stakeholders’ with their MIAP facilitated developments and would actively encourage involvement from as many as possible and, especially, representatives of our JISC community.  The most important stakeholders, the lifelong learners, will need the authority on privacy, security and cost effectiveness that we, at JISC, could provide.

With trust through engagement with stakeholders and with the confidence that concerns of users and other have been completely addressed then, hopefully…………….the vision can really become a reality

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