Big data-driven early alert systems as means of enhancing university student retention and success

Keywords: big data, data analytics, student performance, student success, undergraduate student experience, responsive academic support, graduate attributes, first year experience, student retention, graduateness


This article argues for the establishment of big data early alert systems that inform data-driven student support mechanisms in universities. It proposes a guiding framework for integrated big data to enhance student success premised on a comprehensive understanding of students as people in the world who arrive at universities with various complex life problems that may disrupt their learning opportunities. It argues that various data components should be linked together to foster coherence and seamlessness in understanding student socio-economic and academic needs to develop responsive learning-enhancement intervention programmes. This is based on action research conducted through projects launched at the University of Witwatersrand in 2015 and at the University of Zululand in 2018. The systems were launched, and data was collected using the proposed student performance tracking system. This article explores conceptual and theoretical underpinnings of establishing big data-based student support systems in South African universities. A big student data model is proposed for wider use in South African universities

Author Biography

N. Cele, University of Zululand, Richards Bay, South Africa

Mr Cele worked as an academic at the University of Witwatersrand; Staff Specialist at Technikon SA; Manager of Quality Assurance at UNISA; Director of Quality Assurance at the Council on Higher Education between 2004 and 2008. Following that experience, he worked as a Senior Director of Strategy at the University of Witwatersrand (WITS) between 2008 and 2016 and is currently an Executive Director of Institutional Planning at the University of Zululand (UNIZULU).  Mr Cele is also Acting Executive for Physical Planning and Infrastructure; Acting Executive Director Richards Bay Campus and ICT at UNIZULU. He has the following qualifications: SSTD BPaed (UNIZULU), BEd Honours (University of Natal), MSc in Management Science (University of Illinois), MEd Resources Development and Management (University of Natal), PG Dip in HR (University of KwaZulu-Natal), MAdmin Labour Relations (University of Durban-Westville ) and a Certificate in Higher Education (WITS).  He is currently registered for the DBA with the University of Bath.  Mr Cele has also published papers in accredited journals and chapters in books.


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How to Cite
Cele, N. 2021. “Big Data-Driven Early Alert Systems As Means of Enhancing University Student Retention and Success”. South African Journal of Higher Education 35 (2), 56-72.
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