University improves academic performance with SAS Visual Analytics

Canterbury Christ Church University aims to attract more students and improve retention

Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) provides higher education for 17,000 students, including 1,000 international and EU students. With approximately 1,800 staff, CCCU operates campuses in Canterbury itself, as well as Broadstairs, Medway and Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

The critical task of managing the student body, from initial promotion of courses through to tracking graduation and employment, falls under the remit of a number of professional service departments at the University.

Combined with the practical aspects of time-saving and data accuracy, SAS Visual Analytics forms a critical part of CCCU’s strategic programme to improve and enhance the student experience.

Simon Houlding
Assistant Director of Finance, Canterbury Christ Church University

Understanding student admissions

CCCU created its core Admissions Report by extracting data from multiple separate systems and collating, validating and analysing the information manually, using spreadsheets. Typically, not including the data extraction itself, the analysis process took more than four hours every week. Given the sensitive nature of the material, with confidential University and personal data being reviewed, the task was handled exclusively by senior staff.

The labour-intensive nature of the spreadsheet analysis combined with time limitations restricted the available reporting – and generating the report distracted senior management from essential strategic tasks. Additionally, the report lacked detail and there was no way to drill down from the summary figures to the underlying data.

Simon Houlding, Assistant Director of Finance, comments, “Student admissions affects every area of operations. For example, we are looking to invest around £150 million in campus redevelopment. Managing student admissions effectively is critical to ensure that the capital is properly directed for the forecast numbers, whether they are full or part-time, the courses we run, and the staff and facilities we need.”

Transforming the student journey

Gaining reliable access to student data feeds into almost every aspect of the University's academic, operational and financial administration. The aim was to build a suite of reports that provide insight into the student journey, encompassing initial application, offer, enrolment, education, graduation and employment. To do so, the University needed to collect data from multiple sources, which was beyond the capabilities of a manual process.

"Our main requirements were that our selected solution would provide table-based and visual reporting, and offer drill-down to the source data," explains Simon Houlding. "We particularly liked the possibilities offered by SAS Visual Analytics, as it provides a simple, easy-to-use interface combined with advanced user controls and embedded capabilities such as mapping, and it meets all of our core requirements."

He continues, "For the cost of the product, the value you get from SAS Visual Analytics is outstanding. It combines flexibility with the power of the underlying SAS capabilities, and its simplicity means that training is fast, enabling us to bring new reports into production very rapidly."

Working with the right partners

CCCU engaged Amadeus Software, a SAS Gold Partner, to provide installation, configuration and deployment services.

"Working with Amadeus made sense for CCCU," explains Simon Houlding. "We gained access to experts who were able to solve snags quickly and efficiently, which was more cost-effective than training our own staff purely for a one-off installation process.

"Subsequently, Amadeus became our permanent support partner, helping us to accelerate our adoption and use of SAS Visual Analytics."

Building reports that deliver answers

Based on SAS Visual Analytics, the CCCU team is building a suite of comprehensive reports that no longer require manual data extraction, consolidation and validation.

"The first step is to create comprehensive reports that answer the majority of users' questions," adds Simon Houlding. "Next, our in-house team of six planners will train around 15 key business users, allowing them to produce their own quick reports and enabling a high degree of self-service.

"The intuitive interface means that users simply pull data onto a viewing pane, and the system builds the visuals. This kind of ability allows us to highlight critical information to the senior managers rapidly and easily, with drill-down to the underlying data, empowering them to take evidence-based decisions."

Creating a brighter student future

CCCU plans to create additional reports to include a much greater range of data points and provide a 360-degree view of performance. This may include attendance, finance and academic data that could be used, for example, to predict course dropout rates.

Simon Houlding explains, "At a personal level, we want people to succeed through flourishing, effective courses. If we can identify potential issues through declining attendance and so intervene to help at-risk students, then that offers enormously valuable benefits to CCCU.

"From our first contact with SAS we were impressed with the level of attention to detail and the desire to understand the University," comments Simon Houlding. "SAS has invested time and energy in helping the University maximise the benefits of SAS Visual Analytics.

"Combined with the practical aspects of time-saving and data accuracy, SAS Visual Analytics forms a critical part of CCCU's strategic programme to improve and enhance the student experience."



Without accurate student admissions data, Canterbury Christ Church University was unable to identify unfilled courses early enough to take action, impacting finances and academic performance.


SAS® Visual Analytics


  • Student admissions data available immediately to improve operational, financial and academic planning
  • Enables detailed analysis of student attendance, aiding intervention strategies to minimize dropout rates
  • Manual data tasks now automated, saving four hours of senior executive time every week
The results illustrated in this article are specific to the particular situations, business models, data input, and computing environments described herein. Each SAS customer’s experience is unique based on business and technical variables and all statements must be considered non-typical. Actual savings, results, and performance characteristics will vary depending on individual customer configurations and conditions. SAS does not guarantee or represent that every customer will achieve similar results. The only warranties for SAS products and services are those that are set forth in the express warranty statements in the written agreement for such products and services. Nothing herein should be construed as constituting an additional warranty. Customers have shared their successes with SAS as part of an agreed-upon contractual exchange or project success summarization following a successful implementation of SAS software. Brand and product names are trademarks of their respective companies.

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