Leader: Data have use-by date

August 6, 2004

No one should be surprised universities are finding it hard to deliver ministers' promises to provide detailed information to replace teaching quality assessments. The claims made for the new system were exaggerated to excuse the withdrawal of the one objective measure of courses available to applicants. There were good reasons for universities to object to the burden of assessment, but the alternative was no substitute. External examiners' reports do not lend themselves to the promised summary presentation, while many courses have too few students to be confident that a single year's dropout rate or graduate destinations are representative.

Another delay over the summer will not inconvenience applicants unduly - better to wait for the agreed data than cause yet more confusion by having to correct the figures later. But the autumn is peak time for decision-making and some sort of service (albeit a restricted one) must be ready by then. With some subjects' assessments now seriously dated, and the proposed student satisfaction survey still a distant prospect, the commitments to transparency that accompanied the abandonment of subject reviews look increasingly worthless for the current generation of applicants.

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