Intelligence agency

November 3, 2011

Which?'s intention to move into the world of higher education information provision has caused something of a stir (The week in higher education, October).

We know that choosing a university is a world away from choosing a car or a washing machine. Rating any service is more complex than rating products, but Which? has tried-and-tested methods for getting to the heart of what people need to know about service providers in a range of market sectors.

Some commentators have falsely assumed that we intend to create a simple equation where the value of a degree is determined by the likelihood of getting a job at the end of it. That's not the case.

Students today are faced with complex choices, and better information can and should play an important role in guiding their decisions. Currently, most applicants use only a small proportion of the data available to them when choosing a university, focusing on Universities and Colleges Admissions Service information, national league tables and university prospectuses. Is this really enough to inform decisions that will play major roles in determining their futures? We think not.

Which? will provide a user-friendly guide, pulling together all the information and advice students need to choose the right course and the right university for them. That will include the facts that are already available from different sources, including course entry requirements, student-satisfaction ratings and information on how many graduates are working six months after their courses end, and where.

To this, we'll add advice to help students compare universities according to their own criteria. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but that's no reason not to make the process as transparent as possible.

Students are increasingly aware of the long-term financial implications of their choices. If they're going to incur debts of up to £,000 for fees alone, they need the best information available.

As an independent, not-for-profit organisation with more than 50 years in the business of providing information and advice, Which? is uniquely placed to help students get the maximum long-term benefits from their investment of time, effort and money in university. Surely that's a win-win for everyone?

Peter Vicary-Smith, CEO, Which?

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