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UK government-backed university-comparison site fails to convince

University groups have warned that the UK government-supported ‘key information set’, intended to help students compare university courses, will not give a sufficiently detailed picture of the student experience.

The information set, which includes data from the National Student Survey, went live on Unistat’s website on 27 September, alongside the results of the 2012 NSS.

While generally welcoming the initiative, several university groups have raised concerns that the website alone is insufficient.

According to Libby Hacket, chief executive of the University Alliance group of more business-focussed institutions:

“Universities provide transformational experiences both in and out of the formal teaching environment. Whilst KIS can provide a useful steer, prospective students need to be reminded that this does not provide the full picture”, she said.

Her view was backed by Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell group of larger, research-intensive universities: “It is important to remember that all data can have its limitations and we urge students to read up on courses, go to open days and talk to careers advisers and others to find out what degree course will suit them.

“There are many different ways in which Russell group staff support students’ learning, and not all of them are counted within the Key Information Set use for the Unistats website”, she added.

A University and College Union statement said that students need “real support from government, rather than gimmicks:

“Unless the government changes policy and invests more in supporting potential students, this new website will go the way of previous similar initiatives”, said the UCU’s general secretary, Sally Hunt. “The website’s emphasis on cost and financial benefits leaves the government at risk of accusations that it is merely trying to justify the massively increased cost of degrees.”

The government remains optimistic that the website will be a valuable resource. Launching the website on 27 September, business secretary Vince Cable said: “Applying to university is a big decision and we want to ensure that all students, whatever their background, have the key facts at their fingertips to help them make the right choice for them.

“The introduction of the key information set represents a major step forward for students, their parents, and their school and college advisers.”