Comparison website for university courses
Students are being given officially-approved key information about university courses - with details of how much it will cost, teaching hours and how much they are likely to earn.
This online information is aimed at giving advice for students facing higher tuition fees.
Every one of the 31,000 higher education courses in the UK will carry a link to these "key information sets".
The website went live this morning.
The Business Secretary Vince Cable said it represented "a major step forward for students, their parents and their school and college advisers".
"Applying to university is a big decision and we want to ensure that all students, whatever their background, have the key facts at their fingertips to help them make the right choice for them," he said.
The results of this year's National Student Survey, which measures students' views on their universities and colleges, have also been published and show a slight rise in student satisfaction.
A total of 85% said they were satisfied overall with their course, compared with 83% last year.
The new website - called Unistats - gives comparable, standardised information for people considering applying for university courses in 2013 - looking at how much it will cost, how they will be taught and how much they might be likely to earn after graduation.
This information - collated for the first time - is intended to add greater transparency on what students can expect from courses.'Go compare' for universities
Rather like price comparison websites for financial services, students can draw up their own lists of possible courses and compare them according to a range of preferences - such as tuition fee, the cost of housing or the satisfaction ratings of existing students.
Universities have carried information on their own websites - but this creates a standard format, making the figures comparable.
KEY INFORMATION FOR STUDENTS
- The "Key Information Sets" will apply to all courses
- They will show costs, details of teaching and the earnings of previous students. It is likely to include:
- Tuition fees
- Accommodation costs
- Teaching hours and how course is assessed
- Student satisfaction ratings
- Average salary after six months for former students
- What did former students do next - work, study or out of work?
- Is the students' union any good?
The information, being published by the Higher Education Funding Council, is intended to remove some of the confusion for applicants who might not have access to good advice.
With tuition fees rising to up to £9,000 per year for universities in England, students are expected to become more demanding over value for money issues, such as teaching hours and future job prospects.
The new website includes satisfaction figures from the National Student Survey but not any details about the quality of teaching or academic standards.
This year, the first to see higher tuition fees, has seen a downturn in UK applicants for university - particularly in England.
The most recent admissions figures for courses starting this autumn showed that about 30,000 fewer people have accepted places compared with the same point last year.
The Russell Group - representing some of the UK's leading universities - said: "We welcome anything which makes it easier for prospective students to make choices about which university they would like to study at.
"But it's important to remember that all data can have its limitations and we urge students to read up on courses, go to open days and talk to careers advisers and others to find out what degree course will suit them."'Gimmicks'
Academics, represented by the University and College Union (UCU), say the website's emphasis on cost and financial benefits suggests the government is "trying to justify the massively increased cost of degrees".
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "Unless the government changes policy and invests more in supporting potential students, this new website will go the way of previous similar initiatives.
"Students need proper support, not gimmicks."
The National Student Survey showed an apparent increase in satisfaction levels in the main areas measured.
In total, 86% of those taking part said they were satisfied with teaching standards on their course - up from 84% last year.
Ratings for "assessment and feedback" - which have generally been lower than others - rose from 68% satisfaction to 70%.
About 287,000 students from 154 higher education institutions and 106 further education colleges in the UK took part.
For the first time, they were asked to say how satisfied they were with their student unions. In total, 66% said they were satisfied with them.