#coursedata: making the most of course information

#coursedata: making the most of course information

It’s possible to find information on almost any book with a few clicks of the mouse, and many online stores will even let you read a sample chapter for free. Sadly, the same cannot be said of course information, which is often spread across institutional systems, duplicated or contradictory, and in a variety of formats.


While some prospective students will have a desire to study in a particular location, based on its academic reputation, its proximity to home, or its nightlife, many are uncertain of their options. Finding the right course is tricky, particularly for online, part-time or postgraduate offerings.

Finding out whether it’s really what you’re interested in studying is even harder.

“Information about online programmes is lacking and often difficult to find, both for distance courses and for the online learning elements in blended programmes. This has a significant impact on student choice, domestically and internationally. Only with better information can prospective students find what they want, judge value for money and make more accurate decisions about where and how to study. Better information will give institutions competitive edge ”

Report to HEFCE by the Online Learning Task Force January 2011

2011/01 http://www.hefce.ac.uk/learning/enhance/taskforce/

At a recent JISC sponsored event Tony Hirst, David Kernohan and others worked on Course Detective http://www.coursedetective.co.uk/ which provides searches for courses from a list of 165 University websites. Course Detective does a great job with the data available but would be far more useful if it could find and use institutional data in a machine-readable common format.

XCRI-CAP (eXchanging Course Related Information, Course Advertising Profile) provides a way for institutions to mark up course descriptions for advertising purposes in a standard format that makes it easy to gather and compare. The major benefit is the increased visibility of the information – not just in simple search engine results, but because it can be used to build new integrated information, advice and guidance services. Better informed students are more likely to choose a course that they will complete, and be more motivated to achieve better results, thereby improving retention and achievement rates.

Alan Paull, one of the authors of XCRI-CAP explains that for some organisations adopting the standard can be quite straightforward, whereas for others it may take some time to organise their course information. “If the location of information is already known, particularly if it is centralised in a database, and its quality is high, then writing code to create an XCRI feed can take as little as a day for an experienced developer. However, as with all things sometimes there is an initial time investment up front to organise the information.  Many universities and colleges are doing this so they can adopt the Government’s open data policy as well as for quality assurance purposes.” The XCRI Knowledge base website http://www.xcri.co.uk/index.php contains a wealth of information to support institutions planning to implement the standard, including an XCRI-CAP self assessment framework http://xcrisaf.igsl.co.uk/


David Willetts, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has discussed the coalition Government’s commitment to providing better data with which students can decide their future in education, and Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, has said:

“As the new student finance arrangements are introduced, it will be more important than ever for universities and colleges to provide accurate, up-to-date and easily accessible information to help prospective students choose the course and institution that  is best for them.”

The Key Information Set (KIS) is the result of a HEFCE consultation on public information about HE. The consultation found that institutions should standardise the way they publish key pieces of information about each course they offer. http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/hefce/2011/kis.htm Their research indicated that the KIS should be available on the institutional website and include an aggregation of information from a range of sources, not just course information, but institutional-level data – fees and accommodation costs, historic subject-level data (such as National Student Survey (NSS) scores), indicators of student satisfaction and information about the different teaching, learning and assessment methods used on the course. In its basic form XCRI-CAP does NOT cover these elements, but does provide a structure for accurately describing the courses identified in the KIS. XCRI_CAP can be extended to include other data including KIS elements, and JISC work is beginning to focus on this.


The HEAR http://www.hefce.ac.uk/learning/diversity/achieve/ is a way of recording student achievement in higher education (HE), and is intended to provide more detailed information about a student’s learning and achievement than the traditional degree classification system. It will be issued to students on graduation and will include and extend the existing record of academic achievement – the academic transcript – and the European Diploma Supplement.

HEAR development is being led by the Burgess Implementation Steering Group (BISG), supported by the Centre for Recording Achievement (CRA), Higher Education Academy (HEA),Universities UK (UUK), Guild HE and JISC.

The HEAR will conform to the European standard  “European Learner Mobility – Achievement information (EuroLMAI)”.

It will use XCRI-CAP as the course description component.



To support institutions in making better use of their course data, JISC is funding a large-scale programme of investment.

“Course data: making the most of course information” is open to all institutions eligible for HEFCE CAPITAL funding, HEIs and FECs with over 400 HE FTEs, and will be a 2 Stage process:

Stage 1: Review and Plan of course data Sept-Dec 11

Stage 2: Implementation Jan 12- Mar 13

JISC is holding an online community briefing event to provide information about the background to the call, its objectives and the funding process. Attendees will also have an opportunity to ask questions of JISC executive staff.  The online meeting will take place on 19th July at 15:00-16:30. The link for this meeting and full details of the call can be found on the JISC funding site: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/fundingopportunities/funding_calls/2011/07/coursedata.aspx


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