Ministers want universities to advertise drop-out and employment rates to stop students ending up “stuck on dead-end” courses.
The government said the plans would give students “genuine choice” about where to study and would “clearly identify courses with high drop-out rates and poor graduate outcomes”.
However, it would be voluntary, non-statutory guidance. If take-up was “insufficient”, ministers might consider whether to make it mandatory.
A study by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) found that 59 per cent of students said they would choose the same university and course again. This was 64 per cent in 2019, pre-pandemic.
Michelle Donelan, the higher education minister, said the guidance would “ensure that just as every advert for a loan or credit card must include basic information, like the APR, every university advert should include comparable data on drop-out rates and the progression rate of students into graduate jobs or further study”.
“Making such a significant investment in your time, money and future is not made any easier by bold university advertising, which often promises students a high-quality experience even when the statistics suggest they will be stuck on a dead-end course.”
But Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was more complex than “dead-end courses”.
Move risks ‘stigmatising’ some universities
The move risked “stigmatising universities and courses that are actually trying to do the right thing for those who aren’t academic superstars”.
“Clearly, they have to make sure that they are putting the appropriate support in place for these young people to help reduce drop-out rates and ensure good outcomes. But this is a much harder job than it is with very confident and able young people.”
The guidance says that while drop-out data is already public, it generally “requires some inside knowledge and a certain amount of persistence” to access it.
The government wants universities to position the data “prominently” on all “institutional and subject-specific advertising”.
It should apply to all new advertising, including on web pages, social media, tv and radio, and influencers.
It suggests the font size should be the same as the main body of text, but it could be smaller than the headline.
The requirement does not apply to foundation degrees, postgraduate degrees or degree-level apprenticeship standards.
Nick Hillman, HEPI director, said the decision would leave many vice-chancellors “wondering whether their institutions are as autonomous as they thought they were”.
Bill Watkin, the chief executive of the Sixth Forms Colleges Association, said the value of universities extended beyond their role in contributing to the employment market and future careers”.