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”.