Government Re-Launches UK University Comparison Website
Unistats processes huge volumes of data with open source tools
Today, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and not-for-profit cloud specialists Eduserv have re-launched Unistats – a website designed to help students compare information about university and college courses in the UK.
The updated version of the official website allows potential students to compare courses on a wide range of metrics including cost, employment rates and student satisfaction.
Unistats was created in line with the government’s “Digital by Default” policy, first announced by the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude in 2010. The policy was designed as a way to cut down on paper bureaucracy and simplify access to information, while also providing estimated savings of £2.2 billion.
So how is the new Unistats different from its predecessor? “The important thing is the inclusion of Key Information Sets,” John David, web developer at Eduserv told TechWeekEurope. “HEFCE has done some research to find out what things are important to people when they are choosing higher education institutions. Based on this research, they came up with a set of what they call “measures” – essential statistics that students care about.”
“A lot of what we do on this version of Unistats, that the old one doesn’t have, is surrounding these Key Information Sets and providing the data that people are actually looking for,” he added.
In the making of the website, Eduserv was working with user experience design agency Fluent Interactive, which created “a user-centred design based on research, insight and testing”.
The organisation also kept in frequent contact with the Government Digital Service (GDS), responsible for the GOV.UK portal, to ensure that the website would conform to new government guidelines.
“The real challenge has been to find the way to display all this data. We had a good relationship with Fluent, and they’ve come up with a design that would take the massive volumes of data that HEFCE collects and make it easy to digest,” explained David.
Inspired by the government transparency agenda, Unistats provides free and open access to its data. Developers can use the Application Programming Interface (API) to embed this information in their own sites or applications in real time. The full dataset collected by HESA can also be downloaded as an XML file.
“This is a great example of a government website that supports new government policies. It uses technology to improve the lives of the public by simplifying large amounts of data and enabling students to make more informed choices,” said Julian Mitchell, client director at Eduserv.
“On top of that it is developed to Government Digital Service guidelines and uses an open source Content Management System, avoiding the additional costs of software licence fees,” he added.
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