Key Information Sets rolled out

From September 2012 would-be students have had access to far more essential information on the universities they are considering.

  • Education/Future signpostFor the first time, students can get additional help choosing an university as they can access detailed sets of information and make comparisons between institutions using Key Information Sets (KIS) published on the Unistats site.
  • The Key Information Sets cover 17 aspects of full- and part-time undergraduate courses, including student satisfaction, graduate outcomes, learning and teaching activities, assessment methods, tuition fees and student finance, accommodation and professional accreditation.
  • The data can be updated weekly.

Though the move was been welcomed by some, others have warned of “information overload” and say it represents a further step towards the “commodification” of higher education. Some have also counselled caution in the use of data which – in many cases – is being collated for the first time and could therefore have some potential unintended consequences.

  • The Unistats site has been available since 2007, enabling students to search and compare subject-based course information at different institutions.
  • KIS covers all full-time and part-time undergraduate courses planned for 2013–14 in institutions that subscribe to the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), and also undergraduate programmes taught through further education colleges in England and Wales.
  • The only exceptions are short courses (one year full-time equivalent or less), postgraduate cUnistats logoourses, those delivered wholly overseas and closed courses.
  • The new site is being developed by Eduserv, a not-for-profit web development and hosting company, for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) on behalf of all the UK funding bodies.

The decision to publish all the KIS data on one site was driven by a wish to create a central source of comparable statistics to enable “robust” comparisons between courses and institutions.

University and college web pages will carry a widget displaying a small range of data with a link to the same facts and figures on the national KIS site. The widget will show up to 10 elements of the full KIS on a rolling display. Hefce expects all institutions to have embedded widgets on all relevant course pages by the end of October.

Development work is being overseen by a steering group chaired by Professor Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University. Essential requirements are that the explanations and definitions of the data presented on the site are not misleading, do not create legal problems for individual institutions, and that they explain the data accurately in a way that potential students and their advisers understand.

While some data is being extracted from the National Student Survey and the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (Hesa) Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey, Hefce has, for this first year alone, had the task of sourcing facts and figures on learning and teaching activities, assessment methods, course accreditation, student financial support and accommodation costs from universities and colleges.

Hesa will collect this information – and more – from the second year onwards.

KIS is very much a work in progress with a range of additions scheduled for later years, including recognition by professional, statutory and regulatory bodies and the level and type of financing support – if any – from the university.

From the moment KIS is rolled out, it will be subjected to a review of users’ experience of the widget, the KIS and the new website to establish whether the process can be improved. Data provided by institutions on the site will also be audited.