‘App generation’ offered access to key student data

Southampton site to reveal comprehensive figures on courses and campus. Rebecca Attwood reports

March 3, 2011

The information that universities will have to publish about their courses is not comprehensive enough, according to an institution that is promising to provide much more data online.

Next week, the University of Southampton will launch a new data website in a move inspired by two of its staff, Nigel Shadbolt, professor of artificial intelligence, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the professor of computer science who is credited with inventing the World Wide Web.

They jointly led the development of the website www.data.gov.uk, which was set up to allow a single point of access to government data.

Southampton's new website, http://data.southampton.ac.uk, will initially carry information on the university's courses, procurement and estate, but more data will be added over time.

"Publishing our data routinely online will revolutionise the way in which students research and select courses and universities," said Debra Humphris, pro vice-chancellor (education) at Southampton.

The idea is to allow "the app generation" to "create the information they seek in the way that they want it", she said, adding that much of the information had been "locked away" in databases and spreadsheets around the institution.

Universities will soon have to publish standard data - the Key Information Set - for every course, which will include details of teaching methods and graduate earnings.

But Professor Humphris said that there was "a far greater opportunity" to be seized. "For the past 10 years, Southampton has been a pioneer in open access to research. Now we believe it is time for open access to data," she said.

Meanwhile, an expert group has been set up to examine how information on teaching and assessment should be presented in the KIS. It has recommended that, rather than publish raw figures on likely teaching contact hours per week, universities should produce pie charts for each course showing the proportion of time that students can expect to spend in formally scheduled teaching, independent study and "directed activities" such as group work.

The KIS will not have to be produced until 2012-13, but David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has asked universities to publish graduate salary data by this summer.

A working group from the Higher Education Funding Council for England has proposed that data on graduate salaries, drawn from the Higher Education Statistics Agency's Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Institutions surveys, be published for each university by subject, but only where details are available for at least half the students who went on to full-time employment. The figures would be presented alongside cross-sector subject-level information on earnings.

About 370,000 graduates respond to the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Institutions survey, which collects data on graduate employment six months after graduation, but only about half the respondents disclose their salaries.

A far smaller number - about 41,000 - respond to the longitudinal survey, which is conducted three and a half years after graduation.

Some universities are concerned that data gathered six months after graduation are poor indicators. But a circular published by Hesa last week says that the timings of the surveys will remain unchanged.

The consultation on the KIS closes on 7 March.


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