SFA £2.3m website hardly used

SFA £2.3m website hardly used

The FE Choices website has been viewed by 6,230 people since it launched in January, figures obtained by FE Week reveal.

The  response from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) to a Freedom of Information request shows that the website, which allows the public to compare the performance of providers with one another, has been visited by 1,246 ‘unique’ visitors on average each month.

The request, submitted by FE Week, also reveals that the FE Choices website has cost more the taxpayer more than £2.3 million to date.

The website itself cost £630,000 to build, with the remaining £1,704,000 spent on the gathering and production of data.

it doesn’t take a web expert to see it could have been done for a lot less.”

The value of the website has been questioned by campaign group the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

“At £375 per visitor, this website doesn’t look like great value for money,” Emma Boon, campaign director for the Taypayers’ Alliance said.

“It’s important that young people are informed about the choices they have for further education, but creating a website that is hardly being used is pointless. It is incredible that the SFA has spent such a huge sum of taxpayers’ money on one website – it doesn’t take a web expert to see it could have been done for a lot less.”

The FE Choices website holds a summary of the success rates data for each provider, as well two scores based on whether learners found work or progressed onto another course.

It also holds data, based on two surveys, which shows how satisfied learners and employers were with the provider.

A statement issued by the SFA and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said: “FE Choices is a new product…and it is too early to judge its impact.

“Work is still in progress to improve the information, accessibility and reduce the costs.

“We have already linked FE Choices to the Course Directory on the National Careers Service (NCS) website and we are aiming for full integration with NCS by 2013.

“BIS and the Agency will be working together to develop a communication strategy over the summer for implementation from autumn 2012.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) said the “shockingly low” number of visitors show that learners prefer face-to-face information, advice and guidance (IAG).

Pete Mercer, vice-president of the NUS said: “Investment in IAG is incredibly important but it needs to be more than just a few statistics in the corner of a government website.

“Those trying to make important choices about further education and their futures deserve better, face-to-face support, and the government should change direction immediately.”

The University and College Union (UCU) suggested the low numbers could be due to a lack of marketing.

“When you consider the number of people involved in further education, and the number of people who potentially could be, it is clear that the number of people visiting the site is incredibly disappointing,” Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU said.

“It is likely that a failure to publicise the site has contributed to the low numbers, but there’s clearly been a lot of money thrown at it.”

However, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) have supported the website and told FE Week they expect the number of visitors to improve.

“AELP believes that FE Choices is a useful aid to the type of transparency needed for the quality agenda, which AELP has always championed,” an AELP spokesperson said.

“We would expect the hit rate to pick up once FE Loans start and once a decision has been made on employer contributions when one can expect learners and employers to be searching more for best value.”