Providers will be scored on information they submit to the National Careers Service (NCS) online course provider directory in a bid to combat problems with missing and incomplete data.
The provider quality dashboard, to be introduced in April, will rate providers according to the quality of the data they upload to the directory and will make it mandatory for the entry for each to include a course summary, entry requirements and a course-specific web-address.
The NCS update announcing the dashboard said it would “provide an objective measure of [data] quality.”
Submitting information to the directory is a Skills Funding Agency contractual requirement, but concerns were raised last year over the directory failing to adequately display the options available to people searching for courses.
Following issues raised by the Association of Colleges (AoC), the response from NCS director Joe Billington, seen by FE Week, addressed “problems encountered by colleges and learning providers,” including data quality, bulk uploading of data and the site’s functionality.
No project of this size is without snags and we are working with SFA to make sure that the initial wrinkles are swiftly ironed out.”
He added: “The tool [provider quality dashboard] is intended to support conversations about course directory data quality between relationship managers and learning providers and to show to learning providers the reasons why their data may not always be found through the course directory.”
The AoC also said the directory had been problematic.
Policy director Joy Mercer said: “No project of this size is without snags and we are working with SFA to make sure that the initial wrinkles are swiftly ironed out, which also means we are encouraging members to get their information up onto the directory as soon as they can.”
She described the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ investment in the project as “a positive step” that would “no doubt produce rewards” for aspiring learners.
According to the NCS, 150,000 searches a month are conducted on the directory and the number of failed searches has dropped from 45 per cent of searches per month to less than 10 per cent since November.
Stephen Hewitt, Morley College’s strategic funding, enrolments and examinations manager, who has attended sector feedback meetings about the directory with the agency and the Information Authority, warned further investment would be needed to improve the search engine ranking of the course directory.
He said: “Our systems aren’t showing we’re getting any referrals from the information we provide so we’re quite surprised to find they’re getting 150,000 hits a month.”
Mr Hewitt pointed out prospective learners would simply enter their desired course and location into a search engine and would find, as he had, the top results were local college websites or a commercial competitor to the course directory.
“I’ve yet to see the course provider’s directory on the first page of Google, which effectively means it doesn’t exist.”
He said there were “genuine concerns about the entire validity of the project”.
“The provider quality dashboard will improve it, and the data on there will be better, I just don’t see the point of the directory – there is already a course provider directory available and easily searchable by the public and it’s called Google,” he said.
An agency statement outlined the support available for providers, including a dedicated team of information officers, contactable at firstname.lastname@example.org, and seminars taking place in March.
Joe Billington told the AoC there were clearly further improvements to be made, and added the NCS would work with providers to ensure the improvements to the technical specifications of the directory continued to improve the customer experience.