A report by a government-backed body has recommended that universities are ranked according to new criteria.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (Ukces) has said that prospective students should be provided with a league table covering five areas: the drop-out rate, class enjoyment, employment rate, future earnings and inspection results.
Chris Humphries, Chief Executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills commented, “at the moment, vital statistics about education and training are either not available to the learner or are not easy to compare across courses and institutions.”
“By giving learners more information about the courses they are considering, they will be able to make a more informed choice, with better outcomes all round.”
It is hoped that the introduction of such league tables would introduce a market for courses, encouraging competition between institutions, and meaning that those given low ratings would be forced to improve.
“By being more transparent, we would see the system slowly reforming itself, with good courses prospering and poor ones being forced to make rapid improvements or wither on the vine,” said Humphries.
Second-year Geology student Emma Jude believes that the proposed league tables could be beneficial. “University is about more than the grade you get at the end of it, it is the life experience it gives you. The new information looks like it would make a more well-rounded assessment than conventional league tables, as careers opportunities, quality of teaching and the pressure I am under are more important to me than just getting a first.”
Jonny Medland, OUSU Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs, was not convinced that another league table would assist prospective students commenting, “League tables can be a good way of providing at-a-glance information about universities. However we already have a proliferation of them, with minor changes being blown up out of proportion at times.”
“Students should put a lot of time into deciding which university to go to and they can’t make that decision on the basis of statistics alone. I’d encourage anyone considering going to university to visit possible choices – there’s no substitute for getting a personal idea of which university would suit you.”
There are fears amongst some that new league tables could lead to an increased rigidity in course content. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and Colleges Union, said, “The league table culture has been a disaster in schools and hospitals. If applied to colleges it will lead to a narrowing of the curriculum and an impediment to innovation.”
Julian Gravatt, director of funding at the Association of Colleges, disagrees. “You have to trust the customer and use that rather than the central direction we’ve currently got. We see sense in bringing universities into the system too.”
Alistair Strathern, a second-year PPEist, commented, “For me the depth and range of expertise the university had in my subject was the key, so I tended to go on research and teaching ratings. The idea of inspection results might have aided me at the time though.”
He added, “I guess more information sources for students to draw upon when applying has to be a good thing.”