The IUSS Committee’s recent report on students and universities is a most extraordinary document in all sorts of ways. One of the more entertaining propositions relates to university league tables where the Committee accepts the existence (wisely, you might argue) of league tables and acknowledges the work that HEFCE has recently published. However, its take on such tables is somewhat different from many, in that it suggests that as much data as possible is published in a way which facilitates the creation of league tables:
In our view, it is a case of acknowledging that league tables are a fact of life and we welcome the interest that HEFCE has taken in league tables and their impact on the higher education sector. We have not carried out an exhaustive examination of league tables but on the basis of the evidence we received we offer the following views, conclusions and recommendations as a contribution to the debate on league tables which HEFCE has sought to stimulate and to improve the value of the tables to, and usefulness for, students. We conclude that league tables are a permanent fixture and recommend that the Government seek to ensure that as much information is available as possible from bodies such as HEFCE and HESA, to make the data they contain meaningful, accurate and comparable. Where there are shortcomings in the material available we consider that the Government should explore filling the gap. We give two examples. First, the results from the National Student Survey are produced in a format which can be, and is, incorporated into league tables. It appears to us therefore that additional information or factors taken into account in the National Student Survey would flow through to, and assist those consulting, league tables. To assist people applying to higher education we recommend that the Government seek to expand the National Student Survey to incorporate factors which play a significant part in prospective applicants’ decisions— for example, the extent to which institutions encourage students to engage in non-curricula activities and work experience and offer careers advice. [Para 104]
Not only therefore is it proposed that current data be modified to make the league table compilers’ work easier, but that they should be provided with additional information where it is lacking. Thus:
Second, Professor Driscoll from Middlesex University considered that league tables neglected “the contribution that universities that have focused on widening participation, like Middlesex, make to raising skills and educational levels in this country”. In other words, the National Student Survey as presently constituted does not assess the “value added” offered by individual institutions. We recommend that the Government produce a metric to measure higher education institutions’ contribution to widening participation, use the metric to measure the contribution made by institutions and publish the results in a form which could be incorporated into university league tables. [para 105]
League table compilers have struggled with this one for some time and will therefore appreciate such kind assistance from government.