For universities looking to do more with less, start with your data


Universities today are not only centres of academic excellence; they are hubs for student health and well-being, digital innovation, and international research and diplomacy. Despite the fact that higher education is tasked with taking on more and more priorities, government per-student funding in the UK is projected to reach an all-time low by 2024–25.

While it’s tempting to systematically cut out courses in an effort to reduce costs, universities can strategically do more with less by examining one of the most fundamental (yet admittedly unexciting) components of university operations: data.

The unifying role of data in student outcomes

Most education outcomes are reliant, at least partially, on data. This is especially true when you view a university as a “smart campus,” or an “ultra-intelligent institution.” There’s student data, environmental data, course data, IT logs, sensitive research data, data on university resource consumption — the list goes on. 

Having fast access to the right data at the right time can give you insights into student engagement, better allocate resources, and make university-wide decisions based on data. You’d be able to find answers to questions such as:

  • Are there university resources that are being underutilised? 
  • What are the occupancy levels in facilities like the library and quiet study rooms?
  • How do environmental conditions, like air quality, affect student learning? 
  • What about mental health resources — are resources keeping up with demand? 
  • How can you more sustainably use electricity and other resources to reduce your university’s environmental impact?
  • How are students engaging with technology? Are they connecting digitally, and via which devices? Are they using virtual or in-person learning?

For many universities in the UK, this data exists, but it’s dispersed across various departments, campuses, or technology solutions, making it difficult to make decisions based on a full set of data.

Besides being inefficient and reducing collaboration, these data silos mean that universities are often paying for the same data multiple times (via different tech vendors). In other words, by consolidating tools, there’s the potential to save quite a bit in duplicated expenses.

How to save money and reduce tools via a unified data platform

Having all your university data centralised, accessible, and searchable can help university teams uncover holistic, cross-department trends and patterns that can ultimately lead to better, more informed decisions that benefit your students. Bringing your data together on a single platform can enable your data to do more work for you, reducing tool sprawl, data silos, and overall costs of data storage and usage. It can also facilitate collaboration on small teams with resource constraints, so that departments aren’t duplicating work, and everyone — whether they’re developers, data analysts, or business decision makers — is working off the same source data. 

When you have data that is unified and easy to access, find, and share, the impacts can be far-reaching, enabling you to: 

  • Build a culture where everyone understands the value of data
  • Access relevant information and visualisations in real time in order to find patterns and make better data-driven decisions that will benefit students
  • Accelerate internal innovation through meaningful collaboration — yet restrict access based on user group, especially for sensitive data
  • Save costs by avoiding duplication, reducing technical debt, and moving with agility
  • Provide a foundation on which to easily scale to additional data-based use cases, such as cybersecurity and observability or generative artificial intelligence (GAI)

Data in action: University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh uses the Elasticsearch platform to gather real-time data from its network and systems. Their team is able to visualise this data through Elastic’s Kibana interface. The university maintains all control of its data and data governance processes, from data ingest (via sensors, routers, etc.) through data processing, to data access.

The university collects data ranging from CO2 levels via sensors, the number of visitors to certain buildings, connections via IoT devices, and more — in real time. With this data, teams can analyse trends and patterns that affect student engagement and equip the right people to make decisions based on these insights.

Unify your university data with Elastic

Elastic’s agile, search-based platform allows universities to store, access, find, and use all their data from one spot. Once your data is in the platform, it can be used for multiple purposes, from threat detection to network monitoring to application development. This allows you to maximise the value of your data while reducing tool sprawl. In fact, in a recent survey, Elastic public sector customers say that Elastic reduces costs by 64% through tool consolidation.

With Elastic’s resource-based pricing, you can quickly and economically scale to additional use cases based only on consumption, while ensuring you maintain control of all your data. Unlike proprietary solutions, Elastic is based on an open foundation and is driven by a community of engineers with dedicated expertise in a plethora of use cases who are always seeking innovation and continual improvement.

To learn more about how Elastic can help your university do more with less, read the white paper How public sector can continue to innovate while reducing tech costs.