University challenged

25th August 1995 at 01:00
PUSH-CD 95. published by McGraw-Hill, Pounds 99 plus VAT. WHICH UNIVERSITY ON CD-ROM. published by Hobson's Publishing, Pounds 45 plus VAT.

Anorak alert. Prepare to get a life," reads the opening caption. Hardly the kind of pitch one would expect from a traditional university prospectus, but Push-CD 95 is anything but traditional. A CD-Rom guide to the nation's universities, it is set against Which University on CD-Rom, so far its sole competitor in the market (StudyLink UK, from Howard Multimedia, is about to be launched). As an in-house consumer survey showed, the people's choice establishes itself early on.

As early as that caption, in fact, the sight of which invariably brings a big grin to users' faces. And, as Push-CD 95 takes students through a tour of any of the 128 listed universities, the grin stays. To a jazz-funk background, users click on icons to investigate such diverse matters as courses offered, accommodation, sports and academic facilities, the quality of booze (a "tongue trial") and local attractions. At the end of each survey, a Barry White sound-alike rumbles "Pusshhh-CD".

This is the University and Colleges Admissions Service with attitude, and students love it. Not only for in-your-face humour ("being teetotal in Bradford has about the same social effect as farting in a swimming pool"), but also for its candour.

At the South Downs FE College in Waterlooville, Hampshire, student users approved the verdict on the accommodation at the local university, Portsmouth ("decidedly prefab"), as well as that on the main shopping centre ("useful but ugly"). One lecturer, recently graduated from Warwick University, thought the assessment of her alma mater spot-on, not least the revelation that the university turfs students out of their halls to put up conference delegates.

Students were almost entirely positive: good graphics, a high level of user-friendliness, and a consistently upbeat tone made the search for a suitable university not only interesting, they said, but quick and exciting with it. Quick, that is, apart from the chore of having to scroll through an interminable list to reach any course that doesn't start with a letter at or near the beginning of the alphabet. If applications for zoology are down next year, Push-CD could have a lot to answer for.

As happy as they were with Push-CD, all the students acknowledged that they still consulted the relevant printed prospectuses after using the system, not least for the course details vital to making a proper choice. And, as they all recognised, ECCTIS, the courses information service, is indispensable here.

As, indeed, it is with Which University on CD-Rom. For students, this is not the only shortcoming. Although all used both information systems, they were emphatic as to which they preferred. As one put it, "Moving from Push to this is a bit like moving from The Young Ones to Radio 4."

Rather harsh, perhaps, though the comparison isn't altogether inapt. Which University offers similar information to Push-CD plus a selection of videoclips to give users a better "feel" of an institution, but the students giggled at their jerkiness and frequently sighed at their sincerity. While they felt the system had attractive graphics and was easy enough to operate, much of the commentary was deemed strenuously positive rather than wackily upfront, as with Push-CD. A clear case, it seems, of the Authorised Version versus the Revisionist School; and, for this user group at least, just as clear a winner.

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