Sector representatives have questioned the UK government’s decision to plough another £300,000 into developing digital tools that use graduate salary data to help students make choices about where to study.
Earlier this year, the Department for Education said it would share £125,000 among tech firms that proposed the best ideas for using the Longitudinal Education Outcomes data on graduate salaries by institution and subject as part of an app or web tool for making study choices.
Ministers have now revealed the five projects that won a share of that funding and announced that two of them will each receive a further £150,000 to develop their proposed designs into a working mobile app or website.
Universities minister Sam Gyimah claimed that the project was the start of “an information transformation” for students that would “revolutionise" how they “choose the right university for them”.
At an event to reveal the shortlisted designs, held at Imperial College London, he said that current sources of information for prospective students such as the official Unistats website could be cumbersome.
“What is out there at the moment, while it’s valuable in terms of comprehensiveness, is not personalised, is not dynamic, and it doesn’t serve people information in the way that they would otherwise consume [it] and make decisions,” he said.
“You make a lot of the other decisions in life via apps, and why can’t you have apps to make your decision about your university choice.”
Mr Gyimah praised the five ideas that had been shortlisted for having a “three-dimensional” and “creative” approach to using LEO data.
One app – called ThinkUni – proposes using real-world information from sources like LinkedIn to give students information on what alumni from certain courses went on to do.
Another web-based tool called That’s Life turns the choices faced by young people into a “game of life” where they try and maximise a combination of happiness, work-life balance and earnings from choosing different paths, including not going to university all.
Leo Evans, director of The Profs, the firm behind That’s Life, said he had been keen to create something that would not just focus on earnings outcomes, given that there was a bit of a “morbid fascination” with this currently in education.
But Gordon McKenzie, chief executive of GuildHE, which published a report earlier this year warning of the limitations of LEO data, said it looked “odd” for the government to be spending so much on kickstarting such projects.
“Generally speaking, you would think that if there is this new source of data being freely made available by government then the market would find ways to use it. So quite why you would need to put £300,000 into making that happen…it looks a bit odd,” he said.
Mr McKenzie added: “The real market failure in all this is a properly resourced, impartial advice and guidance [service], not [a lack of] information. There is [already] a lot of information.”
Matt Waddup, the University and College Union’s head of policy and campaigns, said “what students repeatedly say they want is for proper investment in staff and resources. We would like to see a government measure that details the mass casualisation of staff and its impact on students.”