Blog: A new year – and some changes to StARS
By Dr Emma Robinson, Academic Registrar and StARS Sponsor
As we begin 2021 in national lockdown, with the continued disruption that COVID-19 has brought to every aspect of our life and work at UoB, I hope we can also acknowledge the incredible capacity for resilience and creative thinking that we found in ourselves and each other last year, as we rose to the many challenges we faced.
While working to some quite long-term timelines in many of its areas of scope, StARS was also significantly affected by the events of 2020. A big reason for this was because it relies in large part on being able to secure the time and expertise of so many colleagues across the University, and that time and expertise was and continues to be in demand like never before. Additionally, our collective digital awareness and our ability to deliver bimodal education progressed at pace.
Recognising these changes and constraints, over last summer and autumn we took the opportunity to review the StARS delivery plan, to take account of the learning and impact of COVID-19, including the pressures this was placing on the people the programme needs to draw on if it is to be successful.
Having completed that review, in late November the following changes to the programme’s approach were agreed by University Council:
- The end date of the StARS programme has been extended to September 2024 (previously September 2023). This ensures alignment of other changes (below), acknowledges the impact of the delays the programme has already experienced, and reduces the risk of this happening again in future by giving some flexibility to allow for further unforeseen developments. In the shorter term, it will also reduce some of the demand placed on key staff currently focusing on other priorities.
- The scope of the programme has been extended to include moving Banner to “the cloud” as opposed to continuing to manage it on-site. This means Banner can be supported and upgraded by the supplier, ensuring this vital system is secure for the long term and can better respond to users’ (students, staff, regulators) changing needs. The marketplace trend is very much towards cloud hosting of student record systems, so it is likely that we would need to do this in the next few years even if we didn’t already have StARS as a vehicle for making it happen. The student administration functions of BIRMS will still be decommissioned (as agreed by Council in February 2020), as part of the work to move Banner to the cloud.
- The new curriculum data structure (with fewer programme and module codes and a different way to reflect mode of study, location etc) will be completed to coincide with the student record system being deployed in the cloud, i.e. for academic year 2023/24. Doing this will reduce the technical complexity of the programme and the likelihood of re-work needing to be done once the impact of other initiatives such as the Programme Framework for the Future (ProFF) becomes clearer.
- A number of improvements for students will be brought forward to offset the extension of some other elements of the programme (those that depend on the curriculum data restructure such as improvements to registration, enrolment, assessment, student progression and programme transfers). This will allow us to continue to deliver a steady rhythm of change and improvement throughout the life of the programme.
Our delivery roadmap shows the current plan for what we aim to deliver and when.
The highly successful releases of the new My Right to Study (international student visa checks) and My Proof of Study (student status letters) services in July and September 2020 are examples of where the programme has already brought forward some of its plans in response to student needs in the short term. The aim of both of these projects was to identify a pressing operational challenge and rapidly develop and deliver a solution that would have immediate benefits to students.
In a similar vein, the team are working with Colleges on other “tactical interventions” for release in 2021, alongside what was already planned. These include an integrated extenuating circumstances solution and a new online attendance capture solution (My Attendance) that will integrate with the learner analytics platform launched in semester 1.
What hasn’t changed?
StARS remains vital to the ongoing success of the University. The challenges StARS is addressing are complex, longstanding and long term. The impact of COVID-19 has made it even more vital that these challenges are addressed if the University is to continue to be able to conduct student administration effectively in the years ahead, and to achieve many of its long-term aims.
It also remains the case that collaboration with colleagues across the University is going to be the most important contributor to the programme’s success. Our ability to design and implement improvements that will benefit students, academic staff and Professional Services staff is only possible through working in close partnership.
In that spirit, the StARS team and I wish you all a happy and healthy 2021, and we look forward to working together in the year ahead and beyond.