Dear Head of Provider
Good practice guide on publishing information for prospective undergraduate students
1. This letter introduces a guide to good practice for UK providers on the information they publish for prospective undergraduate students. The guide is available to download on the HEFCE website.
2. The guide reflects the research we carried out with students on their information needs as part of the funding bodies’ Review of information about learning and teaching, and the student experience (www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/roiconsult/), and has been developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education on behalf of the UK higher education funding bodies in partnership with Universities UK, the Association of Colleges, GuildHE and the National Union of Students. While it was developed with the established sector, it is applicable to all providers of higher education. Further information about how the guide was developed is available on the HEFCE website at www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/provinfo/.
3. The guide has been developed alongside changes to Unistats and the Key Information Set, which arise from the review. Its purpose is to support providers in providing accessible and comparable information for prospective undergraduate students, drawing on advice provided by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-consumer-law-advice-for-providers) on their obligations under consumer law.
4. This good practice guide is intended to help providers meet existing baseline regulatory requirements as they relate to the provision of information to students. The new operating model for quality assessment implemented in England and Northern Ireland from 2016-17 includes a set of baseline regulatory requirements. This has been published at (www.hefce.ac.uk/reg/QualityAssessment/) and includes an element to ensure that a provider meets its obligations under consumer law. Providers entering the higher education sector or undergoing a quality review visit for other reasons are tested against the baseline regulatory requirements. This guidance does not represent a new baseline regulatory requirement. We expect, though, that providers will use it to help interpret the existing requirement during such review activities in England and NI from 2017-18.
5. In Scotland, the existing regulatory requirements under the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005, and existing quality arrangements continue to apply, and the guidance will be used in this context.
6. We recognise that many providers already supply prospective students with comprehensive, high-quality information, but all providers should use this guide to review the information that they provide through their websites and other channels, and to make improvements where appropriate by 1 September 2017.
7. Our aim in producing this guide is to ensure that prospective students have access to detailed and contextualised information, presented in a way that allows them to make appropriate course comparisons to inform their study choices.
8. In October 2015 the funding bodies published the outcomes of the Review of Unistats (www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/roiconsult/ra/), which considered prospective students’ information needs, and how information should be presented. A primary finding was that students wanted more detailed course information than was presented on Unistats. This includes how their programme will be taught and assessed and the modules available. Prospective students are also interested in the characteristics of the broader student experience in different institutions.
9. Following consultation, the funding bodies received broad support for proposals to transfer the publication of some categories of information, such as percentages of scheduled learning and teaching and assessment methods, from Unistats to providers’ websites, and to discontinue their central data collection (see ‘Summary of responses to consultation on changes to the National Student Survey, Unistats and information provided by institutions’ HEFCE 2016/15, www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/Year/2016/201615). This was to be supported by guidance to providers on their presentation of information in these areas, to ensure that information remained broadly comparable and was accessible to prospective students. Unistats would continue to link directly to institutions’ course information.
Using the guide
10. We suggest that colleagues responsible for developing and communicating student information, and for the governance of accurate and compliant information, should use this guide, with a view to presenting such information in a way that is meaningful, accessible and comparable for the prospective student. The guide is not intended to standardise the way information is presented across providers, but rather to support the provision of rich information appropriate to the distinctive learning and teaching environment within each provider.
11. The guide is not intended to cover all of the information that providers must legally make available. It should not be used in isolation and should be read in conjunction with the CMA’s advice. While we have consulted the CMA in developing the guidance, it is not legal advice and providers should secure their own legal advice where necessary.
12. It does not provide guidance on the publication of Teaching Excellence Framework outcomes, which will be provided separately to TEF contacts in April alongside further information on the communication of TEF outcomes more broadly.
13. We are also discussing with the Department for Education, in the context of the Higher Education Reforms in England, the communication and use of new sources of information such as the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes dataset and the data arising from the proposed transparency duty in England.
Feedback and evaluation
14. We intend to evaluate the guide in autumn 2017. We would welcome feedback on its usefulness and suggestions for case studies of good practice by 29 September 2017, for inclusion in future years. As part of our evaluation, we will be researching providers’ response to the guidance and may invite their participation.
15. We will seek to understand the effectiveness of our new approach by reviewing the information being made available to prospective students following the changes we have made. In England, this will help to inform decisions by the Office for Students about regulation of information in the context of its anticipated regulatory framework consultation.
16. The consultations, research and analysis referred to in this letter and the guide are available under ‘Provision of Information’ in the ‘Learning and teaching’ area of the HEFCE website (www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/).
17. Feedback on the guide should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information contact Catherine Cameron (tel 0117 913 7476, email email@example.com) or Nyoaka Squire (tel 0117 931 7215, email firstname.lastname@example.org).