The cancellation of exams including GCSEs and A Levels in summer 2020 led to a highly controversial process for issuing grades to students. This paper looks at plans for awarding qualifications in summer 2021. Updated to reflect Ofqual's January 2021 consultation.
Higher Education (Information) Bill (HC Bill 21)
Summary of the Bill
The Higher Education (Information) Bill will create a statutory basis for the collection and publication of data from higher education institutions (HEIs); this data will provide information on how HEIs spend tuition fee funding. The aim of the bill is to provide greater transparency which will allow prospective students to make more informed decisions about their choice of HEI and course of study.
Background: higher education information
A large amount of data is currently collected on HEIs and undergraduate courses by a number of bodies. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) HESA collects a range of data every year from UK-wide HEIs on among other things: the composition of the student body, degree results, destinations of graduates and information on staff employed in HEIs. This data is then provided to UK governments and higher education funding bodies to support their work in regulating and funding higher education.
Other bodies such as UCAS and the Student Loans Company (SLC) also collect data on other aspects of higher education. UCAS collects information on university applicants such as the prior qualifications of university applicants and student admissions statistics and the SLC collects information on student support.
Data is also collected via the annual National Student Survey (NSS) in which final year students are asked to provide information on their experience of their course. The survey is completed by more than 220,000 mainly final year students in the UK each year. Students are asked for feedback on various aspects of their courses such as: overall satisfaction with their course, assessment of work, advice and support and performance of teaching staff.
A report by Which in November 2014 A degree of value raised questions about the quality of information and advice which is available to prospective students. Their report recommended that ‘the Government should mandate that all providers are required to provide information in a reformed Key Information Set, with the information that providers must submit set out in legislation’.
Key Information Sets (KIS)
The 2011 Higher Education White Paper Students at the Heart of the System set out proposals for making information on HEIs more accessible so that prospective students could more easily compare courses and institutions. As a result, since September 2012, all UK HEIs have been required to publish a standard set of data on their websites known as the Key Information Set (KIS). Every undergraduate course of more than one year’s duration – whether full time, part time, taught at a university, further education college or private provider will have a KIS – as long as the HEI subscribes to the Quality Assurance Agency. The KIS includes the following information:
- student satisfaction from the National Student Survey (NSS)
- student destinations on finishing their course from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey
- how the course is taught and study patterns
- how the course is assessed
- course accreditation by professional bodies
- course costs (such as tuition fees and accommodation).
- A detailed list of specific KIS data is given on the Unistats webpage About Unistats: KIS. The KIS data allows prospective students to compare courses and institutions – the data is published on HEI’s websites on the Unistats website.
HEFCE consultation on changes to KIS
HEFCE is currently consulting on proposals to improve information provided by HEIs. The consultation document HEFCE October 2015/24 Review of information about learning and teaching, and the student experience proposes changes to the National Student Survey, Unistats and information provided by institutions. The consultation closes on 4 December 2015.
The KIS and other official data is published on a website called Unistats, this national website aims to provide clear, comparable data to allow prospective students to easily compare information on undergraduate courses.
The Bill places a statutory duty on HEIs to collect data and imposes a duty on a designated body to collect and publish this information – this aims to simplify the current process and reduce the number of organisations involved in this process.
Clauses 1 to 6 of the Bill set out which organisations will be covered by the Bill, and provide for the establishment of a designated body to collate and publish information and the publication of guidance on the submission of information. A schedule to the Bill sets out the information and data which will be required – section 1 of the schedule sets out what institutional information will be required and section 2 sets out which course information will be required.
The Bill would require HEIs to provide more information than currently, for example it would require HEIs to provide information on qualifications of teaching staff, complaint handling arrangements and extended data on employment outcomes. It would also extend the duty to provide information to institutions which, by virtue of not being in direct receipt of public expenditure, are not currently required to submit comparable information.
No comments have been made on this Private Members Bill. Below are earlier comments on the publication on information from the launch of KIS in 2011:
Universities UK Universities to provide key information for students, 16 June 2011
Russell Group Provision of information about higher education, June 2011
University Alliance University Alliance comment on launch of KIS
Sources of information
HEFCE Understanding the information needs of users of public information about higher education Report to HEFCE by Oakleigh Consulting and Staffordshire University, August 2010
Which report A degree of value Value for money from the student perspective November 2014
Universities UK Where student fees go September 2013
Higher Education Funding Council for England webpage Unistats and the Key Information Set
“National Student Survey – Key information may not unlock choice,” Times Higher Education 27 September 2012
“Introducing the Key Information Set: meeting students’ information needs”, The Guardian 12 August 2011
“Students to get best-buy facts and consumer rights”, BBC News 24 June 2011
“Six myths about how universities spend their tuition fee income”, The Guardian 6 February 2015
Asked by: Bridgen, Andrew
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, whether his Department plans to publish university course employability league tables.
Answering member: Joseph Johnson
My Department currently has no plans to publish employability league tables. Employability information is already published in a variety of ways and recent legislative changes will enable analysis of graduate earnings over a longer time period, thus providing a richer data set.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) publish provider-level comparisons of employability outcomes in the Higher Education Performance Indicators (https://www.hesa.ac.uk/pis/emp). These are intended to be considered alongside the published benchmarks, which take account of the student entry profile and subject mix at each provider.
Information on graduate employment and salaries is also included in the Key Information Set (https://unistats.direct.gov.uk) to help university applicants choose the most suitable course and higher education provider.
Finally, employment outcomes are one of the measures we are considering for inclusion in the new Teaching Excellence Framework. We will consult on this later this Autumn.
14 Sep 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 8571
Asked by: Mr Jim Cunningham
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what steps he plans to take to address low student satisfaction rates in UK universities.
Answering member: Mr Willetts
The Government’s higher education reforms are designed to make universities more responsive to students’ needs, to increase student choice and to improve information to students so they are able to choose a course and institution that best suits their needs and expectations. Universities that provide a better student experience will attract more students and be able to expand where they chose to do so.
The Government supported National Study Survey (NSS) publishes the ratings of final year undergraduates across the UK. All English universities participate in the survey and the overall response rate is 67% (287,000 students in 2012). The 2012 survey showed that, nationally, 84% of English students were satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of teaching and learning on their course, although there is a lower score for assessment and feedback of 71% in 2012.
However there is no room for complacency, satisfaction rates can vary significantly between institutions and even within institutions in different subjects. We are encouraging universities to use NSS results and other sources of feedback from students to identify where they need to make improvements—to meet the challenge from Government and students to focus on improving the academic experience they offer.
In addition, by introducing the new Key Information Set, we have made it easier for university applicants to access the latest NSS results alongside a range of other information for their subject area, to help inform their decision making. This is available via each university course page and the revised Unistats national comparison website:
21 May 2013 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 156317 | 563 c649W
Asked by: Damian Hinds
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (1) what information his Department holds on the rate of university admissions, excluding admissions from overseas, of young people from different ethnic groups and each income level relative to the proportion of such groups to the overall population of young people;
Answering member: Mr Willetts
The information is not held centrally. Data on applications and acceptances to full-time undergraduate courses by ethnic group are collected by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and are available from their website at:
Information on the numbers of entrants to both full-time and part-time undergraduate courses by ethnic group is collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and is available from their website at:
Neither organisation publishes admissions by ethnic group as a percentage of the overall population of young people.
Both UCAS and HESA are organisations independent from Government. The Government is firmly committed to improving the information available about higher education through the key information set and other initiatives, and is in favour of transparency on who applies to and who attends higher education.
26 Mar 2013 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 149447 | 560 c1066W
A debate on the UN International Day of Education has been scheduled for Thursday 28 January 2021 in the main House of Commons Chamber. The debate was selected by the Backbench Business Committee and will be led by Harriett Baldwin MP.
On Monday 18 January 2021, there will be an Opposition Day Debate on access to remote education and the quality of free school meals. This landing page highlights some of the available data and also provides links to existing Library and other briefings on these issues.