Government needs to help league table compilers

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.

Sheffield made a video competition

Really good competition being run by the University of Sheffield.

Sheffield Made Us is a competition (for a £3k prize) open to the University’s students which invites them to make a 3 minute video about the value of their experience:


The motto of the University is ‘to discover and understand the causes of things’. Show how your time here helped you to discover and understand the world and define the person you are today.

I’m sure it’s not a totally original idea but nevertheless it’s a good one.

NSS results – just about the same as last year

Good news or bad news?

Not a lot to write home about with very little change but BBC reports that satisfaction rate ‘slips’:

This year’s final year students in England were marginally less happy with their university experience than last year’s leavers, an annual survey shows. The National Student Survey shows 81% were mostly or definitely satisfied with the quality of their course, against 82% last year. In Wales the rating was unchanged, 83%, and in Northern Ireland up one at 84%. Twelve Scottish institutions also took part, achieving the highest overall score of 86%, the same as in 2008.

Pretty positive stuff you’d think but the NUS has a different perspective

NUS president Wes Streeting said: “Tuition fees in England were trebled in 2006, but students have not seen a demonstrable improvement in the quality of their experience. “Universities have a responsibility to deliver substantial improvements in return for the huge increase in income they are receiving from fees.”


And the Guardian also focuses on the negative:

Almost a fifth – 19% – of final-year students told the National Student Survey they were dissatisfied with or ambivalent about their courses – a rise of 1% on last year.

HEFCE though offers a more positive interpretation and the full details of results.

But overall this is surely a good news story, albeit one that is pretty much the same as in 2008.

Unemployed graduate sues College for failing to find her a job

Could it happen in the UK?

The Guardian reports that Trina Thompson, an unemployed graduate of Monroe College in New York, is suing the school for not working hard enough to find her a job:

Thompson claims Monroe College in New York’s Bronx borough should refund her $70,000 (£41,307) in tuition for a bachelor’s degree because she has been unable to find gainful employment since she graduated in April. She said the college promised career advice and job leads but has not followed through. “They have not tried hard enough to help me,” Thompson, who received a degree in information technology, wrote in her lawsuit.

All will no doubt be rich pickings for the lawyers.

The Mission Statement of the Centre for Career Development (CCD) here at the University of Nottingham is explicit about the fact that it is about helping students and graduates to help themselves. It reads as follows:

The Centre for Career Development exists to help students and graduates of the University of Nottingham to develop their careers by providing :

* careers advice & guidance
* access to part-time employment & work experience opportunities before you graduate
* information about opportunities for graduates
* graduate vacancies & contacts with employers who target the University of Nottingham
* programmes of awareness raising and skills development to enhance your employability

The CCD statement of service provided also makes it crystal clear that the Centre is not a recruitment agency. The same will be true at institutions across the UK.

Others in the HE system in the US have a different perspective to the disgruntled graduate (again from the Guardian report):Cosmetology

But many Americans who work in higher education are sceptical of Thompson’s claim. “I tell my students that the real goal of college is not to train you for a job,” commenter Larry C wrote on a message board of the Chronicle of Higher Education…. “If that is what you desire drop out right now and go down the street to the school of cosmetology.”

Although I would suspect “If you don’t like our service then try hairdressing” is unlikely to be adopted as a slogan by many university careers services on either side of the Atlantic.

(With thanks to John Horton for the prompt)