Ingenious concept for accessing UCAS data wins TSO’s OpenUp challenge

TSO OpenUp winner

Open University lecturer Tony Hirst awarded £50,000 development fund access and £1,000 personal prize.

Thursday, 31 March 2011 - TSO, the leading provider of publishing solutions to the public sector and part of the Williams Lea Group, is delighted to announce the winner of its OpenUp challenge and the £50,000 development fund prize.

The competition was aimed at encouraging the British public to come up with ideas of how open data could be put to better use for their communities and society at large.

The winning entrant was Tony Hirst, a lecturer in the Department of Communication and Systems at The Open University, for his idea of programmatically creating easy access to data used to power the UCAS course search. Hirst was one of four finalists shortlisted from the year-long challenge.

Hirst's winning proposal was based on UCAS and universities opening data relating to courses offered across the UK. The data covers all aspects of university life from library usage, to open educational resources tagged by course code, even institution performance. Having this data available will make it possible to produce a dataset that gives students the power to aggregate information quickly and compare courses offered across the country when making decisions about where to enroll for higher education. This dataset will act as 'scaffolding' to which future datasets from other sources, such as local community or crime data in a university’s area, can be linked to provide a very rich source of information to aid the decision making process for prospective students.

'During the course of the OpenUp challenge we received some brilliant ideas and our four finalists presented concepts that we could really see working in communities and across the UK. However, Tony’s idea was exceptional, and as a panel, we can see the impact it will have on hundreds of thousands of students making one of the biggest educational and financial commitments of their lives,' commented Robin Brattel, Chairperson of the OpenUp committee.

Hirst, who presented the winning idea to the OpenUp panel on Wednesday 23 March, has also been awarded with a personal prize of £1,000 and will work with the TSO development team to see his idea come to fruition. 'I am thrilled to have won OpenUp,' added Hirst. 'The competition showed that anyone can come up with an idea that really can make use of public data to give better value back to communities, whether on a local or national scale. It’s going to be extremely exciting to turn my idea into a real solution over the coming months, and to see how others link the data with other sources to create applications that we haven’t even considered.'

Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Southampton, one of the architects of the release of UK Government Data and an OpenUp panel judge concluded, 'The UK is leading the way in releasing open data. Making that data linkable and machine-readable is one of the keys to releasing its potential. Another we have seen here tonight - people with ingenious and innovative ideas for applications that will make the UK a better place to do business in and a place better to live.'

Details of the four finalists and their entries can be found on the OpenUp blog at in new window

March 2011