Special Features

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  • 05.25.23

Building Capacity in Institutional Research Around the World: IR Grows Wider and Stronger Each Year

  • by Liile Lerato Lekena-Bayaga, Jan Botha, Angel Calderon, Ching-Hui Lin, Attila Pausits, Wen Qi, Tomoko Torii

Conversation bubblesData-informed decision making continues to be a focal point for higher education leaders around the world, and professionals who endeavor tasks related to institutional research continue to grow in many regions across the globe. Whether it’s called institutional research, planning, quality assurance, decision support, institutional effectiveness, or another related name, there is a growing number of higher education professionals that fulfill the important tasks of using data to inform and improve higher education.

Approximate Regions with AIR AOs

Dark teal: Regions represented by geographically-based AIR Affiliated Organizations 

Of the AIR Affiliated Organizations, many represent international regions of the world . Although independent, they all have an important relationship with AIR and have the same common goal to build and strengthen the capacity to use data for higher education success. Many of AIR’s international members attend the AIR Forum each year, and many of the international affiliates hold their own conferences, similar to some U.S. state and regional groups. We are a stronger community when we share ideas, challenges, and solutions with each other, and we invite you to connect with other colleagues, and perhaps attend IR conferences in other parts of the world!

In this short essay, space doesn’t allow us to include activities across all international groups, but below we discuss some recent activities in a few of our international Affiliated Organizations. We hope you will look more closely at all international affiliates to become more familiar with these organizations, connect, and grow your knowledge of international IR. We invite you to join with us in our efforts to build the capacity of IR across the world!


Angel Calderon, Principal Advisor, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Over the past five years, Australian universities have faced unprecedented challenges — from increased reliance on international students to supplement institutional income to the pandemic, which led to significant financial losses, a reduction in staffing levels, and decreased levels of student satisfaction, progression, and retention.

But there is also a current review of Australia’s tertiary education policy that is likely to result in a transformation in the way tertiary education is funded, quality assured, and made accountable to the federal government and regulatory agencies.

The pandemic has strengthened the importance of data quality but reaffirmed the view that reliable data forms the basis for insights that drive an institution’s decision making. Institutional researchers and planners (IR&P) play a pivotal role in interpreting data, making it available, and deriving meaningful insights to drive institutional change and fulfillment of every university’s strategy.

Increasingly, Australian universities are pioneering a range of ways to strengthen the robustness of data quality and insights. These include integrating and simplifying a range of systems and environments, as well as adopting artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions to improve service effectiveness to support decision makers, students, staff, alumni, and the wider university community.

The practice of IR&P as we have known (i.e., supporting decision makers in formulating well versed or evidence-based decisions) is being transformed, reimagined, and refocused. We are seeing increased democratization of decision making as there is a range of stakeholders as part of this process. All these changes highlight the importance of integrating different perspectives and looking inside-out to improve professional practice.


Wen Qi, Director of Faculty Analytics, Indiana University Bloomington

Institutional research (IR) was introduced to mainland China from the U.S. in the 1990s (Chen & Zhou, 2021; Zhou, 2015). Huazhong University of Science and Technology founded the first research center for IR in 2000.

The roles and responsibilities of IR in China are quite distinct from those in the U.S. For example, most Chinese institutions do not have an office of IR. Researchers doing IR-related projects work in various research centers and administrative offices. Many have other responsibilities and do not serve as the central source for institutional data. The mission of the research centers is often academic-oriented, xsuch as training graduate students or conducting sponsored research. Those who work in administrative offices sometimes serve as speechwriters for the leadership, limiting their ability to conduct objective research (Zhou, 2015). As a result, the role of IR in providing decision support to the leadership is unclear and subject to the leadership’s knowledge about and appreciation of IR.

Two cultural shifts are needed to change the status quo. First, the culture of decision making needs to shift from leader-centered to data-informed. This means that the quality of higher education needs to be measured by a scientifically-established and transparent accountability system, rather than government-led evaluation and inspection. Second, a culture of data sharing and governance needs to be established. This requires sustainable funding to build infrastructure such as institutional data warehouses, and a reform in the organizational structure that makes IR an independent functional unit.

Reforms in organizational culture and administration take time. However, with the vast government investment in digital construction and knowledge exchange among Chinese and overseas scholars, it is reasonable to believe that IR will receive more recognition and legitimacy in China in the foreseeable future.


Attila Pausits, Professor, Danube University Krems

Founded in 1979, EAIR (the European Higher Education Society) is a collegial association of higher education professionals and academic staff who focus on the relationships among research, policy, and practice in higher education, primarily in Europe. Founded in 1979, EAIR developed from its roots as a European “version” of AIR, widening its sphere of interest to policy at all levels — institutional, national, and international. Although its initials refer to institutional research, EAIR formally added “The European Higher Education Society” to its logo in 2009 and then later appended the strap-line “Linking Research, Policy and Practice,” reflecting the direction that EAIR has taken to cross boundaries between types of activities and seeking to cater for a mix of researchers, lecturers, students, administrators, managers, and policy-makers. In this mix, and acknowledging the strong emphasis on new public management and institutional autonomy, the U.S. form of institutional research is seen as relevant in the ongoing study and analysis of higher education research, policy, and practice of higher education. EAIR recognizes that professionals with analytic skills who are equipped with a comprehensive understanding of current higher education and the uniqueness of the specific institutional context can carry out the important tasks of collection, analysis, and operational reporting of data and information.

The 44th annual conference for EAIR will be held in Linz, Austria, September 3-6, 2023. We invite you to join us! You can find out more about the conference at: https://www.the-eair.org/forum2023.


Tomoko Torii, Professor, Institute for Teaching and Learning, Ritsumeikan University, Japan

The year 2023 is expected to be the year in which the behavioral restrictions imposed at Japanese universities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be eased gradually, and students will enjoy campus life without hesitation (hopefully with no masks). During the pandemic, we have closely monitored student learning behavior, learning outcomes, and satisfaction in online/face-to-face instructional formats from the perspective of data-informed internal quality assurance.

IR has played a crucial role in data collection, analysis, and dissemination to stakeholders. Interestingly, results from a survey administered at university undergraduate students revealed that feedback from faculty to students had a greater impact on students' sense of fulfillment in learning than differences in instructional formats. For universities to develop more student-centered learning and education improvement, the areas and issues to which IR should contribute and the offices and organizations with which it should collaborate are expanding. For instance, the Institutional Research Consortium of Japanese Universities has been discussing effective alumni surveys. Meanwhile, accreditation, the leading system for external quality assurance, will enter its fourth phase (7-year cycle) in 2025. Students will no longer be passive recipients of education, but rather actors who actively participate in the quality assurance system, and the entire campus community will be required to foster a quality culture.

Especially in terms of student engagement and campus climate, we must develop research questions for IR, focusing on students' sense of belonging and well-being post pandemics. Regarding the use of the ChatGPT in learning and teaching, several universities have expressed their policies so far, with some universities encouraging it with an understanding of the risks, others cautious, and still others prohibiting its use, and the national debate is likely to continue.


Liile Lerato Lekena, Director of Strategy and Planning, Mangosuthu University of Technology; Jan Botha, Professor Emeritus, Centre for Research and Evaluation of Science and Technology, Stellenbosch University

Established in 1994, the Southern Africa Association for Institutional Research (SAAIR) proudly takes its place as one of the older professional associations in the area of data and decision support in higher education. At its 30th Annual Forum, to take place in October 2023, SAAIR will focus on the future of institutional research in our region, and globally, as we celebrate our third decade of professional development, networking, and collaboration.

In 1994, South Africa became a democracy, and a period of deep transformation of society, including higher education, followed. Other southern African countries also underwent political and social changes, including transitions to democracy and new governments, which have impacted higher education. These transformation processes created many unique opportunities for IR work. It was and remains an exciting, yet deeply challenging, time.

As we look ahead to the next 30 years in Africa and beyond, many challenges remain unresolved (e.g., equitable and affordable access to higher education) as new opportunities (e.g., the impact of AI) continually appear on the IR agenda. For example, the provision of reliable data for the National Student Funding System (NSFAS) in South Africa (a multi-billion Rand program to enhance access with success) looms large. Priority areas in SAAIR’s current and future capacity development initiatives include Learner Analytics, Quality Assurance, External Reporting (of HEMIS data), and Technology for IR.

Former AIR president, John Muffo, was the keynote speaker at the 1st SAAIR Annual Forum. It is fitting that the current AIR President, Karen Webber, will be a keynote speaker at the 30th Annual Forum. We invite all IR and IE professionals around the world to join us at the Forum in Cape Town!


Ching-Hui Lin, Assistant Professor, National Sun Tat-Sen University

In 2015, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education initiated institutional research (IR) and, in 2018, launched a five-year program termed the Higher Education Sprout Project for universities in combination with support for IR to ensure university accountability quality assurance. Also, strongly influenced by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, it has become the trend for IR offices to incorporate social responsibility units to achieve a better coordination between societal and institutional development.

To promote professional development for IR professionals, the Taiwan Association for Institutional Research (TAIR) was officially established in 2016, and more than 60 postsecondary institutions registered as members. Every year, TAIR hosts a series of events such as an annual conference, IR workshops, and campus IR lecture tours, which bring together higher education professionals working in IR, assessment, university ranking, and issues related to higher education. As we make the current transition from the outgoing to the incoming, TAIR has also published two books and initiated a quarterly e-newsletter.

Due to the increased demand for trained IR professionals, this year, in collaboration with the MOE, we have organized a special series of courses for the IR talent cultivation program for postsecondary institutions. The aim of this program is to provide university administrators and IR professionals with a foundation of IR and research skills to support institutional planning and policy formation. The curriculum comprises such topics as the foundations of IR, data governance and visualization, data analysis and assessment, university governance and strategic planning, for which 24 credit hours may be earned for IR professional development.


Liile Lerato Lekena- Bayaga, Director of Strategy and Planning, Mangosuthu University of Technology; SAAIR President: 2023–2024, lekena.liile@mut.ac.za
Contact for Southern Africa AIR: admin@saair.net

Jan Botha, Professor Emeritus, Centre for Research and Evaluation of Science and Technology, Stellenbosch University; SAAIR President: 2008–2012, jb3@sun.ac.za

Angel Calderon, Principal Advisor, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, angel.calderon@rmit.edu.au
Contact for Australasia Association for Institutional Research: info@aair.org.au

Ching-Hui Lin, Assistant Professor, National Sun Tat-Sen University, chclin2100@g-mail.nsysu.edu.tw
Contact for TAIR: Ching-Hui Lin, Secretary-general, Taiwan Association for Institutional Research (TAIR), chclin210@gmail.com, or sc@tair.tw

Attila Pausits, Professor of Higher Education, Danube University Krems, Attila.Pausits@donau-uni.ac.at
Contact for European AIR info: Bruno Broucker, chairman, bruno.broucker@kuleuven.be

Wen Qi, Director of Faculty Analytics, Indiana University Bloomington, weqi@indiana.edu
Contact for IR information in mainland China: Dr. Junchao Zhang, Secretary-General, chair,
China Association for Institutional Research (CHAIR) zhangjunchao@hust.edu.cn

Tomoko Torii, Professor, Institute for Teaching and Learning, Ritsumeikan University, Japan, torii@fc.ritsumei.ac.jp Contact for IR info in Japan: torii@fc.ritsumei.ac.jp

[1] The author would like to thank Dr. Tongshan Chang for his generous support on the China section of this article.

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