Postsecondary Data Infrastructure: What is Possible Today

Report by Amy O’Hara: “Data sharing across government agencies allows consumers, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers to answer pressing questions. Creating a data infrastructure to enable this data sharing for higher education data is challenging, however, due to legal, privacy, technical, and perception issues. To overcome these challenges, postsecondary education can learn from other domains to permit secure, responsible data access and use. Working models from both the public sector and academia show how sensitive data from multiple sources can be linked and accessed for authorized uses.

This brief describes best practices in use today and the emerging technology that could further protect future data systems and creates a new framework, the “Five Safes”, for controlling data access and use. To support decisions facing students, administrators, evaluators, and policymakers, a postsecondary infrastructure must support cycles of data discovery, request, access, analysis, review, and release. It must be cost-effective, secure, and efficient and, ideally, it will be highly automated, transparent, and adaptable. Other industries have successfully developed such infrastructures, and postsecondary education can learn from their experiences.

A functional data infrastructure relies on trust and control between the data providers, intermediaries, and users. The system should support equitable access for approved users and offer the ability to conduct independent analyses with scientific integrity for reasonable financial costs. Policymakers and developers should ensure the creation of expedient, convenient data access modes that allow for policy analyses. …

The “Five Safes” framework describes an approach for controlling data access and use. The five safes are: safe projects, safe people, safe settings, safe data, and afe outputs….(More)”.