Universities generate a mass of data related to students and the courses that they study. As such, ‘data work’ using digital technologies and digital systems is integral to educational administration within higher education. Drawing on in-depth interviews with administrative and managerial staff in an Australian university, this article examines the data practices and processes that have grown up around students and courses. In particular, the article explores the ‘back-stage’ issues surrounding data – e.g. concerns and tensions associated with appropriate uses of data; the organisational cultures that form around the use of data; and the (un)intended consequences of data work. These findings point towards an implicit ‘black-boxing’ of data that shapes the generation and use of digital data in ways that are predominantly restricted and bounded. The article concludes by considering how these constrained forms of data use might be problematised and reconsidered.