Students debate plan for league table of their own

NUS conference to consider ranking focused on 'bread-and-butter' issues. Rebecca Attwood writes

April 15, 2010

Students have proposed setting up their own league table of universities, "designed by students for students".

The idea was put forward by students at the University of East London and was set to be debated at the National Union of Students' annual conference this week in Newcastle.

The motion says that the ranking would address the fact that most existing league tables are determined by newspapers, sponsors and universities, but not by students themselves.

"While we should resist and fight to reverse the commodification and marketisation of higher education, there is an opportunity for NUS to produce the student movement's own league table, focusing on the bread-and-butter provision that matters most to students," it says.

It adds that the NUS in Australia already produces its own league table, and that this has had "a major impact".

However, the motion acknowledges that such a development here would not be without risk, because its design and compilation "would be subjected to significant scrutiny" and would need support from students' unions across the UK.

David Willetts, the Conservative shadow universities secretary, said he liked the idea.

"We value a range of different sources to give future students the information they need," he said. "One that is designed by students for students would be something that could be taken seriously by parents and students alike."

He added: "We have consistently argued for more information about universities' performance to be made available to students, including the results of student-satisfaction surveys and average graduate earnings.

"Anything that helps young people to make more informed choices between different institutions and courses is to be welcomed."

Students were also set to debate how to campaign to protect the student experience at a time of cuts to the sector, and how to respond to attempts to raise the cap on tuition fees.

One motion calls for students to "oppose any attempts by vice-chancellors to try to set students against staff who take action against cuts within their institutions".

Another calls for staff taking industrial action to choose methods that minimise the impact on students, controversially suggesting that academics could adopt a boycott on publishing their research.

In 2006, lecturers' unions campaigning for a pay increase ran a marking boycott, which raised fears that some students would be prevented from graduating.

• For full coverage of the NUS conference, see next week's Times Higher Education.

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