Higher education has changed more in the past decade than at any time during the last century, and central to this is the rise of technology. We’ve reached the point where the way a university or college presents itself digitally is almost as important to prospective students as its academic reputation or facilities. So, it’s more important than ever before to ensure your website, student portal, and other assets are up to the task—here’s how to do it.
Prepare for Rising Student Expectations
With 162 higher education institutions in the UK, competition for the best students has never been so fierce. The steady increase in the number of UK universities over the last three decades has brought with it a greater focus on institution marketability and, as a result, mounting student expectations.
For all but a few hallowed institutions, academic reputation is no longer the sole arbiter of student choice. Your university or college needs to stand out for its facilities and student satisfaction, as well as teaching. More than that, your recruitment and retention strategies must recognise students as customers if you are to remain competitive in today’s higher education market.
And this all begins with your digital presence.
Focus on CX
Superior customer experience (CX) is key to satisfying your existing students and staff and differentiating your institution from others for prospective students. A common mistake made by universities looking to effect digital transformation is to focus the digital experience around themselves rather than the end user.
The first place any digital transformation should begin is always with the customer, and education is no different in this respect.
But how do you go about it?
You could seek the opinion of current staff, students, and alumni through surveys, focus groups, opinion polls, and social media. And this will be helpful in informing your decisions, but more important is that you undertake customer journey mapping.
Customer journey mapping refers to visualising the different stages and touchpoints that customers encounter when trying to achieve a goal or satisfy a need. So, in an educational context, it could be how prospective students find the course they’re interested or how existing students access test scores or extra-curricular activities.
Only through mapping customers’ journeys can you identify what works well for them and, more importantly, any pain points they face that need correcting. It's also the best way to establish what your digital presence has that your competitors don’t.
After all, how can you meet the needs of your students and prospective students if you don’t understand what those needs are?
Another key component of your digital offering should be personalisation, both for existing and potential students.
In practice, this means delivering dynamic, useful content, informed by data provided by factors such as search terms and student profile attributes. For example, targeted courses based upon a prospective student’s web searches or, for existing students, recommended societies and extra-curricular activities based on their online student profile. It could even be as simple as making it easy for students to find recent marks.
One way this can be achieved is through an advanced filtering tool, which allows users to view courses based on a wide range of criteria, imported from internal and external data sources, to find programmes that match their preferences.
Integrating your existing infrastructure with other systems can be a great way to augment your offering and make your institution stand out. For instance, you could integrate your site with job search sites, giving prospective students suggested career paths based on the courses they select from your course finder—providing a uniquely immersive experience.
Another potential avenue is to integrate your course finder with social media sites, allowing you to channel the real opinions of current students and alumni. This data can be used to create a “sentiment score” for each course, giving prospective students accurate insight into reception of course material, teaching quality, and student satisfaction.
As higher education continues to change, and students become ever more discerning and comfortable using technology, so too will the ways in which universities compete for the best talent. To adapt to these changes your university or college needs to harness the latest technology, or risk being left behind.
At VASSIT, we’re experts in helping higher education providers grow with changing technology. Our student experience portal, 4RStudent, gives you everything you need to implement digital strategies and create student experiences that set you apart.