Bill Rammell, the minister for higher education, says that the information could be used to keep universities on their toes. It could even lead to the closure of unpopular courses where the teaching quality was not rated highly enough. He might be right. Overall, this year's survey is remarkably good public relations for the higher education sector. It gives a pat on the back to teaching standards, saying that more than 80 per cent of students expressed themselves satisfied. What matters to prospective students is how, say, Sheffield compares with Southampton or Bath with Loughborough. Sufficient differences exist between institutions to allow "satisfaction" league tables to be compiled. Institutions at the bottom could find themselves given a wide berth.
This year neither Oxford nor Cambridge nor - for the most part - Warwick University entered the survey. But these institutions are expected to come in from the cold. They would be wrong to dismiss the whole exercise. At a time when top-up fees are being introduced, it is welcome that all students will have access to information that is impartial. Let us hope that the universities don't become too adept at persuading undergraduates to talk up their courses on the grounds that, if they didn't, the university - and their degrees - would suffer in the reputation stakes.