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Government to award £300,000 to select startups as part of Open Data competition

The Department for Education will be awarding two businesses a share of £300,000 in funding to further develop prototypes submitted as part of the Higher Education Open Data competition

The government will be awarding up to £300,000 to two of the businesses that have developed prototype technology projects as part of the Department of Education’s Higher Education Open Data competition.

The competition was launched in the summer of 2018 to challenge small businesses to use open data to create digital services which will help students to choose the Higher Education path that best suits them.

During an event at Imperial College London showcasing the five finalists of the competition, universities minister Sam Gyimah said seeing each of the startup’s projects “confirmed to me that government doesn’t always know best”.

Using one of the projects, That’s Life, as an example, Gyimah said: “I don’t think anyone in Whitehall would have thought of a game to educate students about their lives.”

The five tech companies using open data to develop resources for students are listed below.

ThinkUni by AccessED Ltd

The ThinkUni application acts as a “personalised careers assistant” which asks users to answer questions such as their predicted grades, preferred location and subjects and what they would want from a uni campus to help them decide which choice would best suit them.

Simon Coyle, co-founder and executive chair of AccessEd, said UCAS is such a huge database that it can take students a long time to sort through all of the information before making their decision, whereas by answering ThinkUni’s questions they will be given details such as which universities the student could choose based on which grades they get, and how long it would take them to pay back their student loan based on a projected graduate salary.

He also said it gives the students information to take to their parents when making their decision.

Coursematch by Course Match Ltd

The CourseMatch application features a swipeable interface popularised by a dating app. As well as providing different details about courses and universities, it also acts as a social platform where people already doing courses or attending universities can chat to prospective students to talk about their experiences.

When browsing possible courses, using data such as the length of course, the prospective university and the student’s gender, students are given their projected possible earnings based on the average lower quartile, median and upper quartile for that particular course.  

In the long term, the company hopes for the service to act as a national subject league table. There are already 30,000 people using the free app.

UniPlaces by MyEd Ltd

UniPlaces by MyEd acts as a web-based compatibility checker for individuals looking into the best path to achieving a particular career.

The service gives users job prospects based on information about what the candidate has already achieved and what they would be willing to do in the future, offering the options best suited to the user.

Since university isn’t the right path for everyone, the service also gives users information about apprenticeships and other styles of education, and could be relevant for people wanting to change careers as well as students looking into higher education.

The prototype was developed using three user groups, including a group of first-generation immigrants looking to develop their careers, a group of secondary school girls looking into higher education and other young people from diverse backgrounds.

That’s life by The Profs

That’s Life is a web-based interactive game which uses gamification to help students to find out where they will end up as a result of particular higher education choices.

The game simulates the student’s life based on important decisions such as what A-Levels to take or what grades they expect to get.

This will then show them projected data such as their future levels of happiness, work-life balance and income, showing students the impact of their life and course choices.

As said by one of That’s Life’s representatives: “Students don’t want to look at data, they want to know if they’ll end up in a penthouse suite or massively in debt.”

Uni4U by UNI4U Ltd

The UNI4U web-based tool acts as a more personalised version of the UCAS service and is focused on helping students find the university that would best suit them.

While picking the right course is important, it is also important that students feel like they choose their ideal university based on the part of the UK they would prefer to study in and what they would expect from a university campus.

Students can also learn details such as how long it will take to pay back their student loans and what their projected earnings will be based on where they choose to live after their preferred course is complete.

Minister Gyimah said: “All of these are really exciting ideas and if Whitehall had done it, we wouldn’t have been able to explore it this fully.”

Choosing the right path

Part of the goal of the competition, as well as to develop resources for students choosing what education path to take, is to provide students with better transparency of options by using technology to make open data more accessible and readable to the public.

A large percentage of the population in the UK chooses to attend university, and Gyimah said it is important people to choose the path that it right for them, as well as retain those students by making sure they choose a path that suits them and that they are happy with.

While a “good degree is worth the investment”, Gyimah said some people may not understand the difference between certain degrees, courses and universities, as well as the impact the price of accommodation or choosing a vocational course over an academic course can have on their future.

He also said there is “clearly a market opportunity” for services like this, even for those not awarded part of the £300,000 funding from the Department for Education.

The two businesses that will be awarded their share of the £300,000 funding will be announced by the end of the year.

Read more about education

  • Past Microsoft apprentice Joshua Uwadiae explains how in hindsight, he realises his apprenticeship was a life-defining moment in the lead-up to his tech career.
  • Education secretary Damian Hinds has called on large technology firms to use tech to tackle some of the biggest issues in schools.

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