Two studies published today indicate how provision and use of information about higher education (HE) might be improved, to enable potential students to make more informed choices about what and where to study.
'Understanding the information needs of users of public information about higher education', was carried out by a team from Oakleigh Consulting Ltd and Staffordshire University. It considers what information potential students want and need. The study also reviews the best ways of delivering the information, who should provide it, and how the information would support potential students in making their choice of where to study.
The research identifies the specific pieces of information that prospective and current students think are important: top among these are how satisfied other students have been with the course, what proportion of graduates from that course have got jobs, and course costs. It found that when students tried to find these facts they generally could, but that only a minority tried to do so. The report recommends that the way that potential students are made aware of information therefore needs to change, and the profile of the information should be raised, particularly at schools and colleges.
The second study 'Enhancing and Developing the National Student Survey' was carried out by the Institute of Education. It considers how the National Student Survey (NSS) can be enhanced, including which additional purposes it is legitimate to use it for. The researchers conclude that the NSS should continue to support the purposes of providing information to assist prospective student choice and contributing to quality assurance and enhancement. They make suggestions for using the survey more effectively, but recommend that the 'core' survey should not be lengthened.
The Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (HEPISG), which commissioned both studies, is considering what changes need to be made in the light of the recommendations in these reports. The group, which is chaired by Professor Janet Beer (Vice-Chancellor, Oxford Brookes University) and includes members from the NUS and employer groups, will make recommendations to the boards of HEFCE, Universities UK and GuildHE.
Heather Fry, Director of Education and Participation at HEFCE, said:
'Now that we have a clearer understanding of what prospective students want to know about courses they are considering applying for, and how they would prefer to access this information, we can take bold steps to ensure they receive this. This should enable prospective students to make better informed choices about their future higher education.'
Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts, said:
'It is essential that prospective students have access to high quality information when they are choosing which course is right for them. Improving the quality and availability of course information is a high priority for the Government.
'I welcome HEFCE's work with the sector to publish more course information. We will be working closely with HEFCE and other organisations to make swift progress on this agenda.'
A consultation about these changes will be jointly published with Universities UK and GuildHE later this year. The changes will apply to HE delivered in England and Northern Ireland.
1. The two reports 'Understanding the information needs of users of public information about higher education' and 'Enhancing and Developing the National Student Survey' are available on the HEFCE web-site.
2. The Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (formerly the Teaching Quality Information- National Student Survey Steering Group) advises the UK funding bodies and other relevant bodies sponsoring and implementing cross-sector projects on the provision of public information in HE.
3. The National Student Survey forms part of the quality assurance system for HE. The survey gathers feedback from students on the quality of their courses and contributes to public accountability and informing the choices of future applicants to HE. The results are published on the Unistats web-site.
4. Unistats and the NSS have UK-wide dimensions. Funding and representative bodies in Scotland and Wales are also considering the research results with interest.