Presented By O'Reilly and Cloudera
Make Data Work
31 May–1 June 2016: Training
1 June–3 June 2016: Conference
London, UK

The best university in the world

Duncan Ross (Times Higher Education), Francine Bennett (Mastodon C)
17:25–18:05 Thursday, 2/06/2016
Data-driven business
Location: Capital Suite 4 Level: Non-technical
Tags: education
Average rating: ****.
(4.50, 4 ratings)

Prerequisite knowledge

Attendees should be familiar with using data for business applications.


Founded in 1971, Times Higher Education is a magazine specializing in higher education. In 2004, Times Higher Education started to publish the World University Rankings—a list of the top research universities around the world. In 2014, Times Higher Education made the decision to move from being a traditional publisher to being a data business. The magazine had been helping universities understand the world of higher education, but with data products, it could do so much more.

The challenge was that it didn’t own the data or the process for creating the rankings. A new mechanism had to be created for sourcing university data and calculating results, and this process had to be moved in-house from the suppliers. This wasn’t a trivial problem from a data science perspective, as there is no official list of the best universities to compare your results to. Data has to be consistent across international boundaries, but universities are complex and argumentative. Add to this the fact that Times Higher Education also had to build a set of data products that would allow universities understand how to get better at what they do best.

Duncan Ross and Francine Bennett explore the practical and technical challenges Times Higher Education faced, how it overcame them with Mastodon C, and how universities can use this data to improve their performance.

Photo of Duncan Ross

Duncan Ross

Times Higher Education

Duncan Ross is chief data officer at Times Higher Education. Duncan has been a data miner since the mid-1990s. Previously at Teradata, Duncan created analytical solutions across a number of industries, including warranty and root cause analysis in manufacturing and social network analysis in telecommunications. In his spare time, Duncan has been a city councilor, chair of a national charity, founder of an award-winning farmers market, and one of the founding directors of the Institute of Data Miners. More recently, he cofounded DataKind UK and regularly speaks on data science and social good.

Photo of Francine Bennett

Francine Bennett

Mastodon C

Francine Bennett is a data scientist and the CEO and cofounder of Mastodon C, a group of Agile big data specialists who offer the open source Hadoop-powered technology and the technical and analytical skills to help organizations to realize the potential of their data. Before founding Mastodon C, Francine spent a number of years working on big data analysis for search engines, helping them to turn lots of data into even more money. She enjoys good coffee, running, sleeping as much as possible, and exploring large datasets.