Vince Cable Visits

The first thing you noticed as you walked in the room was the noise. The exceptionally tidy Learning Centre was filled with excited chatter; students at computers talking loudly, looking at each other’s screens, fidgeting as they fill out a table; teachers standing in a huddle, equally excited, a few with hair brushes and mirrors out, “subtly” nodding towards familiar journalists from BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

Why? On Thursday the Government unveiled a brand new website called Unistats, aimed at college aged students, designed to make choosing a University easier. Unistats compiles data from all UK Universities and categorises it into Key Information Sets, KISs for short. These range from National Student Survey data to average fees and accommodation costs. The site allows you to search for your course, short list your preferred Universities and directly compare them under the same headings. So if you have ever wondered whose students are more satisfied, Bangor University’s Applied Terrestrial and Marine Ecology students or Worcester University’s Web Development Students? You can find out (Bangor’s if you’re interested).

What did Strode students actually think? Being Second year students who are not far off applying, the vast majority of the people in the room had already made up their mind about what they want to do so perhaps they weren’t the best people to ask about how it helped them choose. However, the general consensus was that it was useful to be able to see the data all in one place. It was also good to be able to see what courses actually entail rather than trying to unpick the expertly crafted paragraphs in prospectuses, which all say they are equally amazing. Some students noted that physically it was a step in the right direction. Gone are the days of endless page turning, leading to an inevitable paper cut and possibly eye strain, (now just RSI and a different type of eye strain), though they do have a point, it has to be better for the environment to cut down the use of huge glossy prospectuses that you will probably only ever read one whole page of each.

So, apart from some general quibbles about filters and how best to display the entry requirements, it was a thumbs up from the students. But an in depth look at an interesting new educational website probably wasn’t why you wanted to read this article; you are almost certainly waiting for me to mention Vince Cable’s grand entrance. But that’s just it. Vince Cable’s entrance was so low key that the lady from HEFCE, the people who created the website, completely missed it. In fact his entrance was so casual that that she was still looking at her phone and telling me that he was probably just caught up being a busy person, when Vince Cable himself walked past her left shoulder and tried to catch her eye.

What did he say? Well he spoke about the website and how useful it would have been to him, how they were trying to make the Universities jump through hoops to get students rather than vice versa. He said he hoped that Strode College students would find it useful as such a high proportion go on to University. The only thing that caused mild titillation was that, when pushed by Vince Cable, a student admitted that out of two, Oxford Brookes would come second, which is a fairly harmless conclusion really. There was then a rather long 25 minute break as he met students and spoke to the aforementioned journalists. After we reconvened in the theatre to hear a talk on student finance by a very enthusiastic, and apparently very thirsty, post graduate; he told us about his life as a landscape gardener come criminal psychologist (unfortunately the two careers didn’t happen at the same time) and was very knowledgeable about how to keep on top of your money and the pitfalls of student finance.

The floor was then opened up to question for all of the second years. He was very calm and patient, answering all the questions put to him in good grace. Even the, “What you think of Nick Clegg saying…” question was dealt with deftly (he focused on collective responsibility). Overall he seemed like a man who was rather busy, did this sort of thing quite often, but did actually care a bit too, (or at least more than the journalists did, they only managed about two and a half minutes coverage between them!).

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