More means worse? (Data that is)

 Lots of information is not necessarily a good thing for prospective students

I’ve written before about concerns about too much data and the importance of quality rather than just quantity in the information provided to applicants to higher education.

Now a new HEFCE report on Improving information for prospective students has come to a similar conclusion.

The report summarises existing research into decision-making behaviour and comes to some interesting conclusion:


Relevant research was identified across a wide range of disciplines, including information science, cognitive and behavioural psychology, behavioural economics and social theory. This research is likely to be relevant to how prospective students make their higher education choices.

The research draws attention to the need to examine fundamental assumptions about how people use information in decision-making.

Key findings in the report include:

  • The decision-making process is complex, personal and nuanced, involving different types of information, messengers and influences over a long time. This challenges the common assumption that people primarily make objective choices following a systematic analysis of all the information available to them at one time.
  • Greater amounts of information do not necessarily mean that people will be better informed or be able to make better decisions.


It’s a really detailed, serious and comprehensive report and sets out eight principles which it is proposed should govern future information provision for prospective HE students. Let’s hope it is taken seriously and that we now take a fresh look at this important issue. Mike Hamlyn has also commented on this report and is entertainingly sceptical on its findings.

University news: David Cameron backs a website

“Tory leaders last night vowed to help more teens get to university”

Important news on more public information for students appearing first in the increasingly education-focused and university-oriented organ that is The Sun. (See earlier post for Sun coverage of academic offences.)

David Cameron kicked off the campaign by backing the newly launched website, Britain’s first one-stop shop that tells kids what the best courses are for their ideal jobs. He said: “There are a lot of misconceptions about what’s a good university and a good course. This is a really great tool for finding out what courses actually work and what are the best routes to a rewarding career. “It gives people vital information in an accessible way and I’m sure it will make a big difference.”

It gives you date on average pay in different careers. It tells you the employment, unemployment and drop-out rates for each subject across universities. Not entirely clear where the breakthrough is here or what difference will be made but they do seem pretty confident that this is special.

Tory shadow universities secretary David Willetts added: “If we are in government after the next election, we will do everything possible to get all the information young people need out to them. “There is no defence for universities and quangos keeping statistics secret that students need when they decide the best course and university for them. “We back this fantastic new website and it’s great that The Sun is backing it too.”

This information is not kept secret. All of it is in the public domain and it really can’t be said that universities try to prevent students getting hold of such data to stop them making informed decisions. It really isn’t clear that young people suffer from an information deficit. And given that there is a constraint on places, all the information provision in the world isn’t going to get more students into university.