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‘Show students the data – or others will do it for you’, Willetts warns

Students should be able to view simple pie-charts showing how their university spends its tuition fee income, David Willetts has said.

Speaking at a Universities UK conference in London today, the universities and science minister said that unless universities “got ahead of the curve” and improved transparency, private businesses would corner the market in comparison websites.

He drew parallels with the Dr Foster website, which has gained success in the healthcare market by comparing public information, such as hospitals’ mortality rates.

“It is better to be ahead of the game, rather than finding yourself on the end of Dr Foster-style initiative”, he said at the Efficiency and Modernisation in Higher Education conference.

“There will be people creating websites analysing these things, but you can get ahead of the curve and create it in a credible and reliable way yourself.

“It would be great if [universities] could provide a pie chart of where the money students pay is going.

“Everyone could see where costs fall and what you are doing to control them.”

Mr Willetts also urged more academics to log their teaching hours in a weekly diary format, so this data could be fed into the Transparent Approach to Costing (Trac) data that is used to compare the student experience.

“I get academics who complain to me about this data. They say, ‘I am supposed to be teaching or doing research [instead]’; they say it is a burden.

“It is only justifiable if the results matter. People hate data if it just goes into a black hole and no-one uses it.”

He also confirmed his view that efficiencies and reforms would lead to a strong higher education sector by 2015.

“When the reforms are in place, the quality of student experience in British universities [will be] even higher in 2015 than at the start of this parliament,” he said.

The universities minister also warned that higher tuition fees must not go into higher staff salaries, which he said were already above those enjoyed in other professions.

Meanwhile, a £1 million project funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England was announced at the conference today.

Led by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, it will fund projects to improve efficiency in universities and colleges over the next two years

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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