Which? is the way to ask sector tough questions

A university information website by Which? could become a more influential source of advice for students than the Quality Assurance Agency or official data sources such as Key Information Sets, an expert on higher education law has predicted.

July 19, 2012

The consumer champion, best known for its comparisons of household items, has announced that it will launch a website later this year to provide free information and advice for students as they choose their university courses.

The charity's move into higher education has been supported by the National Union of Students and David Willetts, the universities and science minister, who said it was "exactly the kind of transformation of information we wanted to see".

David Palfreyman, director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, said that he believed Which? would quickly become a major player because it could "ask questions that other bureaucracies don't ask".

"At the moment, a dirty deal is done where politicians do not really want the world to know students are being short-changed as [teaching] money is spent on research," said Mr Palfreyman, co-author with Dennis Farrington of The Law of Higher Education.

"They don't want to reveal the size of seminar classes or that tutorials are being run by PhD students on £25 an hour rather than full-time members of staff.

"You cannot get that data now, but Which? could ask those questions."

Mr Palfreyman said that students would be able to "draw their own conclusions" about universities that did not respond to questions posed by the organisation.

He added that within four or five years, Which? could have a greater regulatory significance than the QAA or the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which?, said the website would offer "relevant information and advice that empowers students to make the best decision for them".

Liam Burns, president of the NUS, added: "Universities are increasingly competing with each other in a market and therefore cannot provide the impartial resources prospective applicants need.

"As the government will not do so, we look forward to working with Which? to provide comprehensive information and high-quality advice for all."

jack.grove@tsleducation.com.

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