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November 2010/31
Policy development
Consultation

Responses should be made online by Monday 7 March 2011


Public information about higher education
Consultation on changes to information published by institutions

This is a joint consultation by HEFCE, Universities UK and GuildHE on proposals for: giving prospective students useful information about higher education courses; developing the National Student Survey; and improving accessibility to the information that higher education institutions publish about their courses and which is used for quality assurance.

Outcomes of consultation


To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges
Heads of DEL-funded further education colleges
Heads of SFA-funded further education colleges
Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Heads of non-publicly funded institutions in England and Northern Ireland that subscribe to QAA
Of interest to: Student union officers and student representatives
Staff responsible for quality assurance
Staff responsible for admissions, liaison with schools and colleges, widening participation and marketing
Funding councils and institutional representative bodies in Scotland and Wales
Other bodies with an interest in quality assurance of higher education, including employer bodies and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies
Other bodies and individuals with an interest in providing information, advice and guidance to prospective higher education students, including careers advisers and schools, sixth form colleges and their representative bodies
Reference: 2010/31
Publication date: November 2010
Enquiries to: Emma Creasey at HEFCE
tel 0117 931 7225
e-mail e.creasey@hefce.ac.uk
Fiona Hoban at Universities UK
tel 020 7419 5484
e-mail fiona.hoban@universitiesuk.ac.uk
Helen Bowles at GuildHE
tel 020 7387 7711
e-mail helen.bowles@guildhe.ac.uk

Foreword (read online)

Executive summary (read online)


Respond to consultation

Respond online


Foreword

The UK higher education sector contains a rich diversity that is something to be celebrated – from the character of our institutions, to the nature of what they offer, to the students with whom they engage. But to make the most of what we have, and to ensure that our prospective students make the best choices for them, good-quality information is key.

Whatever their preferences are, it is difficult for students to make the right choices if they do not have relevant, useful information at their fingertips. And sometimes the differences between courses are subtle, and prospective students find it difficult to discriminate between them. In this consultation we seek to resolve these problems.

The role of public information is a live topic, indeed it was a central concern in the Browne Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance. However enhancement of information is not a new ambition in the sector; it is something that institutions have striven to do for many years. In these difficult times, with more pressure on places and less public funding, it is more important than ever for students to have straightforward access to good, relevant information.

That is why this consultation proposes that, rather than create a whole new raft of information sources, we gather together existing information that has been identified as useful by students themselves, in the places they tell us they expect to see it. Such a simple principle could go a long way to ensuring that students feel confident about the substantial personal and financial investment they are making when they undertake higher education study, and that the choices they make are the right ones for them, now and in the future.

This consultation also looks at the public data set used by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education to assure the quality of our institutions, and considers future developments of the National Student Survey. These are significant areas of work and I hope that your positive engagement will enable us to enhance them further.

Improving the role of public information in the higher education sector is vital and I encourage you to submit the kind of constructive response to our consultation that will enable us to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to its improvement.

Janet Beer
Chair, Higher Education Public Information Steering Group
Vice-Chancellor, Oxford Brookes University

Executive summary

Purpose

1. Universities and colleges are required to publish certain details about their higher education courses. This consultation proposes changes to those requirements and invites comments on those proposals. It is a joint publication by HEFCESee note 1, Universities UK (UUK) and GuildHESee note 2.

Key points

2. We would like comments on proposals for:

  1. Providing prospective students with information about the higher education experience that we know they find useful, in places we know they look for such information. We propose that this is done through a Key Information Set (KIS) for each course, which would be published on universities’ and colleges’ web-sites.
  2. Making it easier to access the existing, wider set of information that higher education institutions must publish about their courses, which the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)See note 3 examines as part of quality assurance and which is of interest to a wider audience.
  3. Future developments relating to the National Student Survey (NSS)See note 4.

3. Most of our proposals are based on evidence and recommendations from two pieces of researchSee note 5 commissioned by HEFCE, which involved consultation with prospective and current students.

4. We propose that this information should be published by all higher and further education institutions that are subject to QAA review, including all those funded by HEFCE and the Department for Employment and Learning (in Northern Ireland)See note 6, and private higher education providers that subscribe to QAA. It will then be subject to judgement in QAA review from the 2012-13 academic year (and will inform 2013 entrants).

5. The full list of consultation questions is set out in Annex A.

6. The Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (HEPISG)See note 7 will consider the responses to this consultation and make recommendations to the Boards of HEFCE, UUK and GuildHE on how the published information set should be developed, taking the responses into account.

7. The outcomes of the consultation and the way forward, agreed at Board level by HEFCE and UUK and at the GuildHE Executive, will be published as early as possible in summer 2011. Institutions will then develop their information sets.

8. We propose that the deadline for publishing KISs should be the start of academic year 2012-13 to help inform entrants in 2013, although we would encourage publication at the earliest possible date.

9. At the same time as this consultation we will discuss the development of the KIS proposals with expert working groups, and run pilot schemes in a sample of institutions. We hope this will help respondents give informed consideration to the KIS proposals, and provide further information about the resources that will be needed to develop them.

10. We will share updates on this work via a dedicated page on the HEFCE web-site, www.hefce.ac.uk under Learning & teaching/Assuring quality/Public information about HE/revised information set and at two consultation events on 18 February in London and 3 March in Birmingham (details of the events will be published on the web-page and via the admin-hefce mailing list; to join this list see www.hefce.ac.uk under Receive updates by e-mail).

11. This consultation was developed by HEFCE, UUK and GuildHE with advice and guidance from HEPISG, the Quality in Higher Education GroupSee note 8 and QAA. The National Union of Students, Association of Colleges and representatives of employer-related organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills were included in discussions on its development.

12. The proposals in this consultation relate only to institutions providing higher education in England and Northern Ireland. However, HEPISG has a UK-wide remit, and we recognise the benefits of a UK-wide information set, allowing prospective students to access comparable information wherever in the UK they are thinking of studying. We therefore welcome responses from Welsh and Scottish institutions. The funding councils and representative bodies in Wales and Scotland will be informed about the results of this consultation.

13. We will publish a summary and analysis of consultation responses as part of the outcomes document in summer 2011.

14. Additionally, all responses may be disclosed on request, under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act. The Act gives a public right of access to any information held by a public authority, in this case HEFCE. This includes information provided in response to a consultation. We have a responsibility to decide whether any responses, including information about your identity, should be made public or treated as confidential. We can refuse to disclose information only in exceptional circumstances. This means responses to this consultation are unlikely to be treated as confidential except in very particular circumstances. Further information about the Act is available at www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk.

Action required

15. Responses to this consultation should be made online by 7 March 2011.

16. This is an open consultation and we welcome views from anyone with an interest in information about higher education.

17. As discussed in paragraph 10, respondents are advised to check www.hefce.ac.uk under Learning & teaching/Assuring quality/Public information about HE/revised information set for updates and information about the consultation events that we will hold on 18 February/3 March.

Footnotes

1. HEFCE distributes public money for higher education in England. For more information see www.hefce.ac.uk.

2. UUK and GuildHE are representative bodies for higher education institutions in the UK. For more information see www.universitiesuk.ac.uk and www.guildhe.ac.uk.

3. QAA is responsible for safeguarding quality and standards in UK higher education, checking how well universities and colleges meet their responsibilities and suggesting ways they could improve. Institutions pay a subscription to QAA to help fund its work. For more information see www.qaa.ac.uk.

4. The NSS asks final-year students about their course and the institution at which they studied. The survey results are published each year at www.unistats.com.

5. ‘Understanding the information needs of users of public information about higher education: Report to HEFCE by Oakleigh Consulting and Staffordshire University’ (August 2010) and ‘Enhancing and Developing the National Student Survey: Report to HEFCE by the Centre for Higher Education Studies at the Institute of Education’ (August 2010), both available at www.hefce.ac.uk under Publications/Research & evaluation.

6. The Department for Employment and Learning (in Northern Ireland) distributes public money for higher education in Northern Ireland. For more information see www.delni.gov.uk.

7. HEPISG advises the UK funding bodies, and other relevant bodies sponsoring and implementing cross-sector projects on the provision of information about higher education, on the management and ongoing development of this activity. HEPISG’s membership and terms of reference can be viewed at www.hefce.ac.uk under Learning & teaching/Assuring quality/Public information.

8. The Quality in Higher Education Group includes students, and representatives from HEIs, an FE college, a secondary school, the Royal Academy of Engineering, QAA and the Higher Education Academy. For more information on the group, its membership and terms of reference, see www.universitiesuk.ac.uk under Policy and research/Policy areas/Quality and standards/Quality in Higher Education Group.