I came across this blogpost about the new College Scorecard website in the US from one of the 18F folk I’m following on Twitter. I always find it interesting to read about other teams tactics when it comes to working in a user-first manner – so much is the same as our approach but I always learn something new. Also I love it when I read about teams that follow our ninth principle – ‘machines have needs too’ from the start – building on the same API they are opening up more widely and providing bulk downloads of all the data.
Here is the thing. That space where higher education (including research) and government meet is still pretty much the sweet spot for me when it comes to a wider understanding of policy issues and history. I’m no follower of the apocalypse but I understand how the pieces fit together for the most part and can recognise the runners and riders.
So with that said the first thing I thought when I saw the College Scorecard was it was pretty damn similar to what Unistats does. Then I realised I hadn’t looked at Unistats in years and wasn’t sure of the status of it.
Turns out it is still there and still being kept up to date (although it is still rocking a directgov.gov.uk domain which dates it somewhat). The stated purpose of Unistats is;
Unistats is the official site that allows you to search for and compare data and information on university and college courses from across the UK.
Like the College Scorecard it allows you to compare courses and institutions and get dashboards presenting a number of key indicators for either/or – in fact the inclusion of the student satisfaction figures as part of the UK KIS data probably sets it apart from its US cousin. Also the data is available via download and API under the OGLv2.0 (though you do have jump through a few hoops.)
This version of Unistats has been available since 2012 so it isn’t ancient but it does look a bit dated already – the design feels cluttered, there is a separate mobile app rather than the site being responsive, the aforementioned old URL isn’t helpful and to be honest in comparison to the US site the user experience is pretty unintuitive – the site is powerful but seems more intent on demonstrating that it has loads of data rather than making it straightforward to get somewhere.
The UK market for Uni comparison sites is pretty crowded with Which? and ComparetheUni well established as well as Ucas tools so it might be that a ‘data by default’ strategy would be a better play anyway but if not then it would be interesting to see how Unistats data would look in the College Scorecard user interface (which is helpfully available under an open license on Github)? Maybe a fun project for someone at a hackday 🙂