I came across the news first on Twitter from the @timeshighered account:

Which? launches university comparison website, featuring details of 30,000 courses and 262 HEIs: http://ow.ly/dD1vw 

This announcement caused some slight concerns on Twitter, perhaps with a feeling that higher education shouldn’t be treated as a consumer good.

But shortly after the announcement on Twitter Alison Kerwin, head of Web Services at the University of Bath, reminded me that she had predicted that we would see such consumer guides to selecting higher education course when she gave a plenary talk on Let the Students do the Talking… at UKOLN’s IWMW 20o7 event:

I don’t want to say I told you so but… Which Guide to Universities? http://www.slideshare.net/awildish/let-the-students-to-the-talking … #iwmw2007  pic.twitter.com/0Ear12Ca

As can be seen from Alison’s slide (which are available on Slideshare) which have her vision of the future, Alison predicted that we would see commercial services such as whatuni.co.uk. This service exists and which is not too dissimilar in its aims from the newly launched university.which.co.uk site.

As one does, the first University to explore on such services is your host institution. As can be seen for the entry for the University of Bath, we see not only the picturesque display of the University campus but also some pleasing words about the University:

Bath University is consistently one of the highest ranked for student satisfaction in the UK. The University has an ideal blend of academia and a thriving campus with many activities to get involved in. With a reputation for exceptionally strong sports we’re national champions in netball, football and women’s tennis – we also have a brand new arts complex on the way.

However the positive view of the university is not surprising when you notice that it has been provided by the Student’s Union.

buy antibiotics over the counter University site” src=”http://ukwebfocus.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/bath-university-from-which-university.png” alt=”” width=”571″ height=”377″ />Another view of the university is given by comments from students with one example of the downside being:

Faith support. We have a chaplaincy where I work part time but it is not advertised as a resource and is kept hidden by its location on campus so most students are unaware of the support offered by it.

Although it was good to read the positive comments:

Library facilities, teaching quality is generally high, communication is excellent.

Really good sports clubs due to the enthusiasm of the students involved.

But for me the most interesting aspect of the Which University Web site was the inclusion of the latest tweet from the institutional Twitter account. In this case this said:

RT @TeamBath The reception is over & the bus prepares to return to the @uniofbath . Thank you Bath. #bathlympicbuspic.twitter.com/2OmTVZ4t

and highlighted yesterday’s open top bus parade of Olympians and Paralympians in Bath including University of Bath Sports Performance student Michael Jamieson, who won swimming silver at the London Olympics and Paralympic swimmer Stephanie Millward, who won an impressive haul of five meals in the pool at the Games.

Clearly a relevant story for the University. But what if there’s less good news to report? What if the announcement is “Severe delays in getting Bath University today due to Open Day. Car park is full!“. Or, as happened a few year’s ago “University closed due to snow. No traffic allowed up Bathwick Hill” – although that can clearly be described as a good news story 🙂

But what we are seeing is that a university’s official Twitter channel will have multiple purposes including keeping current staff and students up-to-date with relevant news as well as providing a marketing channel for potential students. It strikes me that the providers of the official channel may find tensions between the informational and marketing aspects of such work.

It would be interesting to hear if any Universities have published policies on the purpose, content and scope of their official Twitter channel, and how they might use Twitter to communicate important information which could have negative connotations.

But perhaps technology could provide a means of detecting feeds which only publish good news. We are seeing Twitter analytics tools which provide sentiment analysis. Perhaps such tools could be tuned to analyse University feeds too. And if potential students find that 100% of weather-related tweets, especially from a northern university, describe sunny weather they might detect a lack of openness! After all, as we know that many only reviews are fake, digital literacy courses provided for students may give advice on how to spot fake reviews. Let’s ensure that our channels are based on values of openness and transparency and not just the good news. Which is, of course, the point Alison made back in 2007 when she said Let the Students do the Talking….

Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] – [SocialMenton] – [WhosTalkin]