Edu Data Summit – The Highlights

Big Data

The first event of its kind, QS’s Edu Data Summit was a masterclass in the use of big data in the higher education sector. Bringing in delegates and experts from across the globe, the three-day seminar offered an in-depth exploration of this increasingly important subject.
With such a wealth of talented speakers at the event, picking out highlights is difficult. Nevertheless, here’s a roundup of some of the most interesting talking points:


Wednesday kicked off with the QS Stars Conference. This session was a great way for current and prospective university users of the QS Stars ratings to share experiences with their peers and partners. It also provided an opportunity to discuss best practices, data collection and the general process of the system.

This was followed by an afternoon masterclass on subject rankings. This session was designed to help university staff understand exactly what goes into the QS World University Rankings by Subject.
Coverage here was extensive and included:

  • Data collection
  • Data analysis
  • Publishing the rankings
  • The effect of rankings on universities
  • How to use the rankings for strategy planning

The masterclass finished with a Q&A segment, allowing attendees to get a complete understanding of the process.


MIT’s president, Leo Rafael Reif, opened Thursday’s proceedings with a video address, before Bernd Widdig, director for international activities at MIT, gave a keynote speech.

The first presentation of the day discussed how universities can use big data to enhance higher education. The analysis of big data is already having a major impact on our lives and it has the potential to improve them in an unprecedented capacity. Kevin Downing, director of knowledge, enterprise and analysis at City University of Hong Kong, explained exactly how the same technology could be used to improve higher education.

The next session, ‘From Hard Data to Soft Power’, featured leaders from some of the world’s best-known universities, discussing how their own institutions have used data to increase their success.

This was followed by a fascinating set of case studies in which the use of big data had directly helped improve performance.

How useful are mission groups? The summit continued into Thursday afternoon with a fascinating talk about how universities use mission groups to maximise impact.

Closing the day was a session entitled ‘Does Better Data Mean Better Universities’, which took on a Question Time-style format. A team of experts tackled the topic of data quality before taking questions from the floor in what proved to be a fascinating and insightful debate.


Friday’s program began with University College Dublin’s Bairbre Redmond presenting on the subject of academic teaching and learning advances. This session involved a discussion on how sharing data across institutions can help in the development of teaching methods and the effectiveness of learning at university.

This session was followed quickly by a case study session looking at universities’ use of informative data. The importance of intelligence data was discussed, with panellists musing over examples of value creation for universities which have only been made possible by the availability of big data.
One of the event’s most topical sessions came next: ‘Have Rankings Empowered the Drive for Quality in Higher Education?’ In this, panellists debated whether university rankings
really do drive quality, or whether they encourage uniformity and stifle autonomy.

The last session of the day discussed how research tools, such as those provided by the publishing firm, Elsevier, help to empower collaboration between universities, and what could be more valuable in our globally connected society than cooperation? Our team explored how these tools can be used both to identify collaboration targets and to monitor how effective these partnerships are.

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