Leading Article: Information is power

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The Independent Online

The report from the Commons select committee on innovation, universities and skills reveals how difficult it is for outsiders to ask awkward questions of universities and receive satisfactory answers. In an age when consumers expect more and more information about products, and food packets in supermarkets come crammed with nutritional data, it is surprisingly difficult to find information that will enable you to compare one university with another.

It is deemed acceptable for Which? and other magazines to compare products and services, but universities are seen as somehow above the fray. University league tables are sneered at. The Quality Assurance Agency, which the MPs believe should be reformed, used to provide hard data in numerical form about the performance of each university department. But vice-chancellors complained to Tony Blair and the system was watered down. David Willetts, the Tories' higher education spokesman, backs the provision of more data to potential students on the employment rates of different subjects, the earnings of graduates from different courses, and so on. The universities will not like it but it will at least empower the customer.

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