Following a recommendation from a sub-group of the Teaching, Quality, and the Student Experience Committee investigating HEFCE's responsibility for quality assurance ('Report of the sub-committee for Teaching, Quality, and the Student Experience: HEFCE's statutory responsibility for quality assurance', HEFCE 2009/40), the Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (HEPISG) commissioned two pieces of research to review the efficiency, effectiveness and use of existing public information about higher education.
The first piece of research, '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 is wanted and needed, the best modes of delivering the information, who should provide the information, and how the information would support potential students in making their choice of where to study.
The research identifies the key pieces of information that prospective and current students deem important as being primarily related to course satisfaction, employability and costs. It found that when students searched for this information they could generally find it. However, only a minority were found to actively search for such information. The report recommends that the way that 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 by the Institute of Education, 'Enhancing and Developing the National Student Survey' considers how the National Student Survey (NSS) can be enhanced, including additional purposes for which the NSS should be used. The researchers conclude that the NSS should continue to support the purposes of providing information to assist student choice and of 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.
HEPISG is considering what changes need to be made in the provision and use of public information about higher education, in the light of the recommendations in these reports. The group, which includes members from the NUS and employer groups, will make recommendations to the boards of HEFCE and Universities UK and the GuildHE Executive. A consultation will then be jointly published in late 2010, which will apply to higher education delivered in England and Northern Ireland only. Unistats and the NSS have UK-wide dimensions however, and funding and representative bodies in Scotland and Wales are also considering the research results with interest.