A new service that aims to smooth the path to university for students using the clearing system has been launched on Teletext. It uses new technology which transforms Teletext from a one-way broadcast medium to a two-way interactive medium rivalling the World Wide Web.
The service, developed by Hobsons Publishing, allows students to check details of universities and the courses likely to be available, and to send messages requesting further details. These messages are forwarded by email, but students using the service need not have a computer or Internet connection. All they need is a touchtone telephone and a Teletext television set.
The service also gives students contact details of course tutors and an information line phone number.
Robert Baker, managing director of Hobsons Academic Relations, said the service was launched in response to demand from students and their parents for accurate, updated and widely available information on courses that might be available during the clearing process.
"We are the first Teletext information provider to provide an email service nationally and this builds on the basic courses service we launched in 1993," he said.
The new service, "Selector", uses technological improvements that enable information providers to enhance Teletext pages with searchable data and email links. The aim is not to replace the Universities and Colleges Admisissions System clearing process but to ensure that students have detailed pre-clearing information before they receive their exam results on August 14.
Will Bromage, marketing manager of Hobsons TV Text Services Unit, said that Selector was a unique pre-clearing service with the advantage that students, and parents, had up to six weeks to pinpoint the university and course of choice before the clearing process was under way.
Users tune to ITV, select the Hobsons Selector page (number 350) and are shown a telephone number to ring. A recorded voice tells the user to key in a private text page number. A new Teletext menu screen then appears and prompts users to fill in their name, using the telephone keypad. This text page is assigned to the user for the duration of the telephone call.
Users are then presented with a main menu with five options, including three simple ways to search the Selector database by keying in two-letter and number options.
One screen option allows users to send a brief email message requesting details on the course chosen. The student's personal details are held by the Selector service for the duration of the call so users do not have to rekey details for every message.
Another feature is a regional map which allows users to request university and course information from any of nine geographical areas. Hobsons have a helpline which will conduct the searches for users who find the technology too difficult.
Mr Baker said that the aim was to provide a service that could be used by anyone able to call up a Teletext screen and use a phone. "We are well aware that they are many people out there who have a degree of technofear.
"We are also aware that many people do not have access to the Internet and many who will not use it in the short term for all sorts of reasons. Teletext has a UK customer base of 18 million. Our basic service has proven there is a demand for such course information - last year we had more than 250,000 Teletext requests for information."
Hobsons hopes the Teletext service will reach more UK students than its existing Internet service (www.coursenet.hobsons. com). However, the Internet reaches worldwide, and last year a third of the Internet service's users were from overseas.
Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS, said he welcomed any expansion of available course information to students and parents but emphasised that no service could offer a guaranteed shortcut to a place at university ot college.
The information held in the Hobsons CourseNet database at Cambridge is accessed several times a day by Greenland Interactive, the firm that converts the data into Teletext pages. Course information received from universities appears on the Internet site within 30 minutes.