If the higher education system in England is going to become a market as never before, then students are going to be its mystery shoppers.
If you’re spending up to £9,000 each year on tuition fees, you want to know what you’re getting. So how are students going to decide?
Universities from next year will have to provide “key information”, helping their student customers make value-for-money comparisons.
It’s a cultural shift in how universities present themselves – more best-buy tables than big philosophical ideas.
Instead of artful pictures of cutting-edge buildings and young people enjoying themselves, this is more likely to mean a pie-chart showing how many former students are now in gainful employment.
There will be data showing the earnings of recent graduates, rental costs in the area, teaching hours and student satisfaction ratings, based on the results of the National Student Survey. The student union bar might get a mention.
Each undergraduate course will have to be accompanied by this information, so applicants know how the course is taught and assessed.
It should mean fewer hidden surprises about how many contact hours there will be with staff – or the value of the degree in the jobs market.
This compulsory fact box will have to be in place alongside the higher tuition fees next year.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England has given an illustrated example of how this key information set might look.
The forthcoming White Paper on higher education is also expected to propose a way students can hold universities to account.
A “student charter” is expected, setting out the consumer rights of students and a framework for making sure universities keep their promises. This could even mean paying back part of the tuition fee if a university fails to deliver.
And this could be of interest to growing numbers of disgruntled students – with complaints about universities reaching record levels this year, according the annual report of the higher education ombudsman, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
‘Great leap forward’Aaron Porter, the outgoing National Union of Students president, has been co-chair of the student charter proposals. Aaron Porter says universities need to give facts along with the marketing
He says the idea of giving key information to applicants is a “great leap forward”.
He wants the student charter and the key information set to provide students with a more useful picture of what they can expect from a course.
“There has been an explosion of marketing from universities in recent years, with claims about the facilities on offer,” says Mr Porter.
“Students are enticed by the flowery marketing-speak. But there are surprisingly few details about the curriculum and the learning experience.
“The open days are stage-managed events and there are stories about flowers being planted specially and buildings repainted.
“It means that students can make their choices on flimsy grounds, or rely on league tables.”
Sir Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, said it was important for students to be able to make sense of the vast amount of information produced by universities – and to make useful comparisons. Read more…