Unbelievable excitement as website updated

Big announcements about Unistats.

As previously noted there is no shortage of information available to prospective university students. Unistats was intended to enable better decision-making by students but, whilst it is not without merit, it is no substitute for effective advice and guidance. Unfortunately this shiny website seems to be pretty much all that’s on offer. Still, the good news is it has been updated to help students make even better choices:

The updated and improved Unistats web-site includes even more course information than ever before, and will make it easier for users to search and compare courses by location, as well as on the go via a new mobile phone version.

Unistats is one of the most widely used higher education course comparison web-sites in the UK for prospective students, their parents and advisers. Over the past year, it has attracted more than 250,000 unique visitors and over 5.2 million page views, helping to match students to universities and colleges.

unistats latin

It really is this exciting

Anyway, the Universities Minister David Willetts is a big fan and credits Unistats with students getting into their first choice universities (and I thought it depended on their A level grades):

‘We are empowering people by publishing unprecedented levels of information on their options.

‘It is making a real difference and more students than ever before are now getting their first choice university place.

‘The next stage is to let people access Unistats on their mobiles, at a time and place of their choosing.’

Times Higher Education, reporting on the launch, include a quote from Rachel Wenstone, Vice-President at the National Union of Students who seems really keen on all this:

“Deciding what to study and where to go to university is a big decision and it is crucial that prospective applicants have relevant, impartial information in an easily accessible format,” she said.

“I’m really pleased that the improvements to the site have been made with students, parents and carers in mind and I hope it will contribute to helping even more students make the right application choices,” she added.

(Indeed, NUS seems surprisingly enthusiastic about many government initiatives these days.)

Anyway, it’s all very exciting news. Even if it does make it all sound a bit like a dating site…

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Higher Ed data – way too much information

Tackling the surfeit of data

I’ve written before here about Higher Education regulation (see for example this general commentary and this post on information provision) and the excess of information provision available to prospective students.

It’s pleasing therefore to see that HEFCE is undertaking a review of providing information about higher education. The aims of the review are set out as follows:

The review will aim to ensure that:

  • wherever possible, the different elements of the provision of information fall within a coherent framework, across UK institutions
  • we gather sound evidence to help us form the future information
  • the outcomes of different mechanisms suit the issues they are designed to address
  • information is usable and accessible, and that we are able to make the best use of technology to facilitate this in the future.

The review will reflect on how much this area of our work costs the public purse. It will also consider the role of a range of organisations in providing independent, contextualised, robust, comparable and usable information.

unistats latin

There’s plenty more where this came from

The review will look at the purpose and use of NSS results, at the Unistats site and the Key Information Set data as well as the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (Delhe) survey. It is also going to examine how this data is used by prospective students. If all goes well this should be an extremely valuable piece of work and will, it is to be hoped, result in a significant reduction in the quantity of data collected and published (and the bureaucratic burden on universities) in favour of an improvement in the quality of information available to applicants.

A long way to go but let’s hope that the group overseeing the work, the Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (HEPISG, from which acronym I’m afraid I still derive puerile amusement) will do its job well and we will see some real change in this area.

Eight minutes to choose a degree course

A report on the use made of Unistats

HEFCE has published an evaluation of the Unistats website after its first period of operation. It suggests that the huge demands made of institutions in providing the necessary data have paid off as Unistats has already become “one of the most widely used higher education course comparison websites”.

unistats latin

Since its launch in September 2012, the Unistats web-site has received over 3.8 million page views and over 175,000 unique visitors – an average of 984 new visitors per day. The site is used extensively by prospective higher education students, their parents, careers advisers, teachers and higher education staff.

The research, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Councils, looks at the site’s position in the market and how it is perceived and used, as well as issues such as navigation, search, filter and comparison functions, and data presentation. A separate report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) focuses on the experiences and views of higher education institutions.

Key findings include:

The average length of visit to the site is over eight minutes (a long time compared with use of other web-sites).

Many users regarded the independent and authoritative nature of the site as one of its key strengths.

Prospective students, current students and parents were more positive about the site than careers advisers, teachers and higher education staff, and more likely to describe the site as ’useful’ and ‘easy to get around’.

All very gratifying for Unistats fans. But as an earlier post noted there really is no shortage of information on HE opportunities. The most worrying element of this report though is the eight minute visit. Whilst this is undoubtedly a comparatively long time for a website visit it really is a frighteningly short time to spend looking at possible course choices.

The College Scorecard: KIS-ing in the USA

President Obama announces a higher education initiative which looks a bit familiar.

scorecard

The College Scorecard as it is known has attracted some mixed reviews since it was announced by the President. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that it is intended to help prospective students but that it doesn’t perhaps do all that is claimed:

In his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Obama announced the release of the College Scorecard, a project he first proposed in a speech at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor last year. The interactive online tool provides comparable information on college affordability and value, to help students and families figure out “where you can get the most bang for your education buck,” the president said.

Most interestingly it bears some quite striking similarities to the Key Information Set, recently established in England, ostensibly to aid student decision-making about higher education choices:

graduate-employment

Graduate salary information

finance

Financial information

And as an earlier post on Unistats and KIS noted, that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Unistats and KIS – just too much information?


Unistats – now with added KIS – has launched

The all new Unistats site has launched:

Unistats is the official site that allows you to search for and compare data and information on university and college courses from across the UK. The site draws together comparable information on those areas that students have identified as important in making decisions about what and where to study. The items that students thought were most useful have been included in a Key Information Set (KIS), which can be found on the Overview tab for each course.

The site draws on the following official data on higher education courses:

  • Student satisfaction from the National Student Survey
  • Student destinations on finishing their course from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey
  • How the course is taught and study patterns
  • How the course is assessed
  • Course accreditation
  • Course costs (such as tuition fees and accommodation)

There is a mass of information here and, as this screenshot shows, data is presented in a handy tabular form:

However, we do have a problem. As previous posts have noted there really is just too much data here and across the various university, HE sector information and league table websites. The launch recently of the new Which? University site (about which I posted here recently) added to the mess and the Unistats upgrade just serves to make the picture even more complicated for applicants.

There is no information deficit in HE. We do not need more and better course comparison websites. What we do need is fewer new websites and more and better guidance for prospective students.