Deciding to go to uni is a big financial decision, yet the information students need to make that decision often isn’t available. Here’s Heidi Allen MP on why she’d like this to change.
Our higher education institutions are regarded as among the best in the world. As the MP for South Cambridgeshire, with the University of Cambridge on my doorstep, I am especially aware of that.
But going to university is also likely to be the most significant financial decision a young person will make.
My Private Member’s Bill
Research by Which? has found that navigating this increasingly complex landscape can be unnecessarily challenging at what is already a stressful time. Why? Because unlike most large purchases, the right information to make such a decision isn’t readily available. Students aren’t able to research key aspects of potential establishments and courses, such as teaching quality or employment prospects, because the information just isn’t there.
Having had to make that choice (dare I say, more than 20 years ago?) I know that choosing the right course will always be complex and difficult.
A student will never really know whether they’ve made the right choice until they spend a week or two on campus, perhaps enter the lecture hall or even only after they’ve graduated. But with such a wide variety of places to study or courses to pick, making the right choice requires having the right information from the word ‘Go’.
That’s why last Friday I presented my Private Member’s Bill on higher education for its second reading in Parliament. The Bill aims to improve the information available to prospective students when they research and apply to universities, so that they can be confident in making a complex decision based on objective information.
Universities breaching consumer law
A recent investigation by Which? drives this home. Of the 50 university websites they scrutinised that offered psychology undergraduate courses, it discovered three quarters of them were breaching consumer law by failing to provide prospective students with vital information. Three universities were consistently adopting unlawful practices at the time of the research. How many prospective students about to make that financial decision would be shocked by that?
With UCAS applications open for 2016-17, and students having researched their courses and potential choices since the summer, it’s shocking that around two-thirds of institutions were failing to provide students with up-to-date information on course fees.
Students have a right to know exactly what they are committing to and paying for when they go to university, before they sign up to a course.
It was great to hear Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, agree:
‘A healthy market needs well-informed consumers. Applicants need to know what they can expect from a particular course, and be able to compare institutions across a wide range of criteria. Much information is already available, but the whole sector needs to go further.’
And so, as the Minister has committed to reforming the quality of information through the upcoming Teaching Excellence Framework, I’m looking forward to seeing how my Bill and the research findings from Which? and the Higher Education Policy Institute will help shape the new proposals.
Did you have all the info you needed when you were looking for a university? Or are you a prospective student now who’s struggling to find the information you need to make the right choice of uni and course?
This is a guest contribution by Heidi Allen, MP for South Cambridgeshire. Which? called for and is backing Heidi’s Bill. All opinions are Heidi’s own, not necessarily those of Which?