The Key Information Set (KIS) gets another (deserved) bashing in the late edition of Times Higher Education this time from Richard Partington at Churchill College Cambridge, opening with an analogy of a car insurance price comparison website. He acknowledges that this is a limited analogy.
Nonetheless, car insurance is fairly straightforward; and although we all wince at its cost, policies are far cheaper, simpler and easier to compare than the complexity of UK university courses.
Another factor about insurance of course is that you only really know if it is any good when something goes wrong and you need to make a claim. In contrast higher education is an expensive, long term and one-off investment. If you don’t like the degree you have you can’t change your alma mater to a different one next year. I suppose you would do another degree but that isn’t a plausible or sensible option for the vast majority of graduates.
Of the KIS he writes:
The result will surely be deterioration in an already problematic reality. As it is, students flee in the face of a plethora of information they struggle to understand, instead choosing on the basis of word of mouth. Consider two excellent Midlands universities. These seem to me essentially indistinguishable on substantive grounds. Yet one receives many more undergraduate applications than the other because it has a better "reputation". So far as I can tell, this has very little to do with anything that should matter to an undergraduate.
I mostly agree with Mr Partington up until his last sentence. Reputation is the currency of higher education—it matters greatly to undergraduates because it matters to their teachers, their friends and their potential employers. Oxford and Cambridge stand alone – I can’t see them worrying about their reputation anytime soon. But the rest of us seek a better reputation than our competitors, (however it is we define reputation).
Even in today’s consumerist higher education environment the proverb rings true- A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. (Proverbs 22 v1, NIV) or could that be “A good name is more desirable than high contact hours; to be esteemed is better than high graduate salaries”.
I'm please to report that the findings of our survey of 1000+ school pupils and their teachers is now online. It also contains case studies of the status of languages within selected schools throught the UK.
John Canning, Angela Gallagher-Brett, Fabio Tartarini and Heather McGuinness (2010) Routes into Languages: Report on teacher and pupil attitude surveys (Southampton, Routes into Languages). Available from the Routes website.
HESA has published an interesting document on the definition of the word ‘course’. The report outlines the differing definitions of ‘course’ used by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and other players in higher education. As I noted in my previous posts, this poses many difficulties for those us seeking the answer to the basic question—how many people are studying ‘X’?
Only last week the Times Higher Education ran an article under the headline ‘1 in 4 new undergraduate courses fails to attract any students’. However, the truth here is that courses are certain combinations of modules and subjects, not distinct entities. A university can offer a ‘course’ in Criminology, Accountancy and Canadian Studies on the grounds that it is a feasible combination in terms of the timetable. The question of whether or not students choose this ‘course’ is a different one to the question of whether programmes in Criminology, Accountancy or Canadian Studies departments and courses are viable.
In May this year, it was reported that London Metropolitan University was cutting 400 courses. Whilst it should be acknowledged that departments and jobs have been threatened at the institution, it is quite a different issue to the question of the number of subjects on offer and the number of staff there will be to teach them.
Interestingly, the collection of data for the Key Information Set (KIS) could lead to the end of certain offerings – not because they are bad courses, are expensive to run or even that they have low numbers of students – but because of the extpense of reporting on each combination. It appears that each ‘course’ will require its own KIS (which will report on employability, salary outcomes etc. ). So a BA (Hons) ‘course’ in Criminology, Accountancy and Canadian Studies would require its own KIS which would be different than those for each of those subjects as a single honours subject or in combination with other subjects. If this is indeed the case then Malcolm Gilles, quoted in the THE sums up the situation poignantly:
…the new student information requirements would also have an impact on decisions about which courses to keep. Why keep running courses that don't attract many students, especially now that you will have the cost of producing a Key Information Set for every course you offer? If you have only one student or even zero enrolment, [how will you record employability] for that course in the KIS? Such requirements would force universities to weed those courses out.
Could an unintended consequence of the KIS the death of joint and combined degrees or at least the end of ‘non-cognate’ combinations? Working in languages where joint and combined courses are particularly common this could become a new threat to the subject.