Colleges accused of failing to provide consumer data

19th August 2011 at 01:00
New chief of skills body says lack of published information suggests they have something to hide

Colleges have come under fire for failing to publish information about student satisfaction and outcomes which would help the public choose courses and compare institutions.

Michael Davis, the new chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said it raised the suspicion that colleges are afraid the information would show them in a bad light.

The commission, which brings together business leaders, trade unions and charities to advise on skills, first called two years ago for colleges to provide consumer information, from student satisfaction to job prospects.

It also wanted institutions to publish "score cards", assessing their overall contribution to communities.

Mr Davis said that, so far, only Leicester College, where he was formerly chair of governors, had taken action. He said: "It's sad that Leicester is still the only one that's done it. Similarly around the course labelling, it's quite slow to move.

"I hear two things. One is that until we agree what all the standards are, we can't do it. My view on that is that standards over time start to settle, but it doesn't have to be 100 per cent precise up and down the land that we're asking every learner exactly the same question. It would be good just to start.

"The other part is that regrettably some colleges see this as bureaucracy, which I think is really sad. They see it as an additional burden.

"Whereas for me, if you really want strong accountability to your customer base, surely that's exactly what you would want to do?

"I find it difficult to argue for a reason why you wouldn't want to do it, other than they don't have the data or they wouldn't like what the data says. Those can be the only two reasons."

He said colleges may have made it less of a priority due to funding cuts, but that it would be worse for FE if a system of course labelling was forced on them.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) said there might have been a failure at national level to gather the information and present it cogently for all providers, but accepted that colleges could do more in presenting score cards to the public.

An AoC spokesman said: "Most colleges collect destination data on full- time programmes in order to be able to assure themselves of their validity in terms of students getting HE places or moving into employment - and that information is supplied to local schools.

"Moreover, success rates data is published nationally and provides very detailed data about courses. As highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office recently, one of the biggest issues in terms of missing data for the 16-19 age group is the relatively patchy success-rate data for schools - something the Government itself has said it wants to improve."

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