Higher education as food labelling

Food labelling for university courses

From the BBC website:

School leavers applying to English universities will get more data about courses under government plans to treat them more like consumers. A food labelling-style system will flag up teaching hours, career prospects and seminar frequency, says the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

On Tuesday, it will announce a new framework for higher education. The plan aims to set out priorities for universities ahead of a review of the way students fund their education. Tuition fees were introduced in 1998 and Business Secretary Lord Mandelson believes this entitles students to act more like consumers.

He has said government and industry must scrutinise and monitor courses on behalf of students, encouraging “a greater degree of competition between institutions” to drive improvement in courses. His department already publishes statistics on employability after six months and three-and-a-half years, but the latest plans would put information in one place. This could include graduates’ typical future earnings, contact hours with tutors, assessment methods and frequency of tests.

So instead of detailed descriptions of each course in prospectuses, via ucas, on university websites and the detail of league table subject comparisons, we are going to have something like this:


It really isn’t at all clear how this is going to be in any way an improvement or of real value to prospective students. Consolidating small pieces of information into one place in this way suggests that a much more superficial assessment of quality is the aim here. And how is it going to be decided what is red and what is green?

Let’s hope that the real proposals are a bit better than this implies.

4 thoughts on “Higher education as food labelling

  1. As a matter of interest, Paul, if we leave aside the slightly fatuous-sounding food labelling analogy, do you think it would be beneficial to require universities to publish, in their prospectuses, on their web site, etc. quantitative data such as contact hours, class sizes, dropout rates, mark distributions, modes of assessment, etc.? (Obviously lots of places do some or all of this already, but would it be better if it were mandatory?)

    1. John (How is Denver?)

      I agree that much of this information may be useful to prospective students (although I would hope they would linger over the material for slightly longer than they would the label on a pot noodle) but I think the idea that some of it can be provided in any form of auditable and objective way is tricky and, moreover, I don’t believe it should be mandatory.

      The evidence of how far wide of the mark I am will be published tomorrow!

  2. Mmm. Useful but tricky to provide could make for a dilemma for prospective students, I guess; is institution x not providing the info because of legitimate concerns about what it means and how to interpret it, or do they have something to hide? The outward behaviour is the same in both cases.

    Denver’s great, BTW; blue skies and brilliant sunshine. Only downside is hearing about IT departments who apparently accomplish sickeningly impressive miracles on a routine basis.

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