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As well as the critical issue of financing, there are two key opportunities for the post-18 review announced this week by the government.

They are both revealed by transparency on future earnings data. However they are fundamentally different. The first is quality, the second is choice. At The Careers & Enterprise Company we think that to best support young people it is important that these are understood and addressed separately.

Earnings data and quality

First, quality. Low future earnings are, in some cases, an indicator that a course or institution is of poor quality. In particular if we look at value add and find that a course offered by one institution to a particular cohort delivers much lower earnings than the same course delivered to a similar cohort at a different institution. In this case, the issue is quality.

The way the review should react to this signal is to increase quality for students – ideally by finding ways to take truly poor quality options (for example where the return is negative) off the table.

Earnings data and choice

Secondly, choice. Future earnings data is also an indicator of what a young person’s life might be like after they finish their course. This data could therefore could be a driver of a young person’s decision to take this course versus another or to aspire to a particular university. For example, certain subjects are associated with higher earnings because they typically lead the way to particular jobs.

Making this transparent may – or may not – affect a young person’s decision. In this case, the issue is choice. The way the review should react to this by making this data available to young people. At The Careers & Enterprise Company we already work to help young people make more informed choices by creating connections between young people and employers across England to bring future options to life. Making this data accessible would build on that work.

High University fees emphasise quality issues

As well as bringing a major set of challenges of their own, an effect of fees is to make these other issues more urgent. High fees make quality issues more stark (very low graduate earnings on an investment of £9000 per year feels more shocking than very low earnings for free) and encourage more active choice (if students are paying they should be enabled to be strong and informed consumers).

At The Careers & Enterprise Company we believe these are separate issues and need to be addressed separately. The review must not expect ‘choice’ on its own to solve ‘quality’. It would do this if it expects young people reading complex signals in data to vote with their feet and in this way drive up quality.

Evidence from other industries shows this is not the case. When adults are offered cheaper electricity they often do not switch.

We would recommend the review focus separately on improving quality across the board on the one hand, and data to support choice between these high quality options on the other. At The Careers & Enterprise Company we believe this data should be put in the hands of young people, their parents and their schools and colleges.

Inevitably choice improves quality – a bit. But it is not a strong enough lever and should not be relied on to achieve this other equally important goal.

This dual focus is the best way forward for our young people and our economy.