De Montfort University partners with SAS® on a unique business intelligence Master's degree
To better compete with other institutions, address an industry skills shortage and ensure the employability of graduates, De Montfort University's Department of Informatics teamed up with SAS on a groundbreaking Masters degree, helping to create a new generation of all-round business intelligence professionals.
A world-class university, De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester is home to 18,000 students and 3,000 staff. Known as an academically excellent institution, teaching is also underpinned by internationally renowned research: in the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, nearly half its Computing research was rated 'internationally excellent' or 'world leading'. In 2011, the Informatics department launched a new MSc in Business Intelligence Systems and Data Mining, with a curriculum developed in partnership with SAS. The objective is to further strengthen the department's position in an increasingly challenging and competitive environment, to address an industry skills shortfall and further enhance the employability of graduates.
"Focusing in this area gives us a unique selling proposition compared to other departments – and SAS' involvement gives us an even more significant USP," says Professor Bob John, Head of the Department of Informatics, which has 30 academic staff, 600 undergraduates, 190 taught postgraduate students and 60 PhD students. "We have to differentiate ourselves in a market-driven environment, and feedback from industry indicates that data mining is a very important topic. We're already seeing a great deal of interest in the new course: for example, a leading daily newspaper visited recently. So we know the demand is out there." He says the other key issue is employability, supporting the DMU's already excellent reputation: 95.4% of postgraduates enter employment or further study within six months of completing a course. He adds, "With the growth in data, every organisation will eventually have to deal with it. This issue isn't going away."
"The SAS® Academic Programme was incredibly helpful in the run-up to the validation of the course and as we prepared to teach the MSc," says Dr Chris Fidler, Principal Lecturer in Informatics and the Programme Leader for the MSc. "Various factors make this MSc unique in this field: from the holistic approach to BI systems to the extent of our partnership with SAS and the opportunities for student placements."
"We've taught SAS for many years to undergraduates, especially SAS® Enterprise Miner™," Prof. John says. "In fact, data mining is now the most popular option in the final year of our degrees." With the department deliberately growing its data mining and BI expertise, he says it was a natural progression to create the new taught Masters programme. The course was validated in September 2010, with extensive support in person and via written submissions from the SAS Academic Programme, with the first cohort of full-time and part-time students beginning in September 2011. The target is for 10-16 full-time equivalent students each year undergoing eight taught modules and a three-month project that, depending on the student's aspirations, could involve working in a company on a SAS-related activity, assessing the feasibility of a BI system in general terms, or pure research work. From 2012, a distance learning option is being introduced, drawing on the department's extensive experience and excellent reputation in distance learning.
Partnering with SAS
"We always knew input from a business associate would be an important element to ensure the course was right for business and our students," Dr Fidler says. "We did look at the competition. But we knew SAS worked with other universities, it obviously has a pedigree in analytics, and we use SAS, so it was natural to approach them. We received a fast response and the process started. Later, we attended the SAS® Professionals convention to 'market' our concepts and get feedback." Hands-on support from the SAS Academic Programme included taking the department's ideas to SAS consultants in the field and providing their feedback. DMU staff also took part in SAS e-learning, with one lecturer undergoing SAS® Certification, and attended a two-day business reporting course. "We regularly ask for our quota of text books," Fidler adds, "and the Academic Programme is helping us to arrange guest speakers, including SAS consultants and customers, for a seminar programme. We're also planning a student trip to SAS UK headquarters in Marlow." Optional one-year placements in industry are a key element of the department's MSc courses. "We're working with SAS on this, and talked to companies at the SAS Professionals convention who expressed interest in providing placements," Dr Fidler says. "Placements on MSc courses are highly unusual, very few universities offer them, and are especially attractive for our overseas students."
She adds, "This MSc looks at how to ensure business needs are matched by the technology implemented. It's about satisfying business requirements and developing the right systems as a whole." Prof. John says, "We're a research-led department in a research-led university. The department's philosophy is that research informs as much teaching as possible, which is particularly relevant for this MSc. We're moving into a very challenging period, and how universities are funded is changing dramatically. To stay strong, to build and grow, we need to develop attractive courses like this MSc through collaboration with partners such as SAS. SAS is a major selling point for the MSc, and this is a model we're taking into other courses."
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De Montfort University
Create and deliver an innovative new MSc course in business intelligence that reflects real-life business issues and requirements, delivering academic rigour as well as research opportunities, addressing a skills shortage and making students more employable.
A partnership with SAS including hands-on support from the SAS Academic Programme: expert advice, curriculum input/feedback, submissions for course validation, advanced software, teaching materials and textbooks, e-learning and lecturer training, guest speakers, SAS visits, support for student placements.
A unique taught Masters that combines academic rigour with research-led approaches; a state-of-the-art curriculum founded on the latest technology and best practice; creating experienced and highly employable BI professionals, with transferable skills, able to take a truly holistic view of delivering BI systems in line with organisational requirements.
“"The SAS Academic Programme was incredibly helpful in validating the course and helping develop the curriculum. Various factors make this MSc unique in this field: from the holistic approach we are taking to BI systems to the extent of our partnership with SAS and opportunities for student placements."”
Dr Chris Fidler
Principal Lecturer in Informatics and MSc Programme Leader