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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

Future friendly prospective student content

With the current degree finder platform approaching end-of-life from a techncial perspective, we’ve been discussing what kind of shape the next generation of degree programme digital content delivery should take. This post is derived from a discussion paper generated in collaboration with colleagues in Information Services and Communications and Marketing.


Soon after I arrived in post, Steven Ross (Head of Digital Marketing) and I began talking about where the degree finder needs to go next. Steven has been managing the undergraduate and postgraduate degree finders for around ten years, and we’ve been working together to transition responsibility over to the new Prospective Student Web Content Team.

We were both pretty clear from the outset that with the investment needed to address the technical issues coming up at the end of 2020, we should be looking at how fit for purpose our current approach is and how we might take advantage of recent developments in data management and software development.

I drafted a short paper which we then shared with Stratos Filalithis (Head of Website and Communications, manager of the EdWeb CMS Service), Jon Trout (Head of Web Strategy) and Dave Berry (Head of Enterprise Architecture) and then revised it with their feedback.

Why is this important?

We’re in the midst of an options appraisal exercise for the future of the degree finder, being led by colleagues in Project Services in Information Services. Steven and I wanted to bring to the fore (in hopefully not-too-technical terms) the kinds of things we need to be thinking about as an organisation, when it comes to some of the most important content that we manage.

This isn’t about databases or websites really (of course they come into it though).

This is about the fundamental accessibility and usefulness of business-critical content. This is the information students use to gauge whether they should consider applying to study and research with us.

There are few things more important to us as an organisation than how prospective students interact with our education offering.

Or, as Sara Wachter-Boetcher, author of Content Everywhere puts it:

Better copy isn’t enough.

As devices and channels multiply – and users expect to relate, share, and shift content quickly – we need content that can go more places more easily…

…more future-ready, flexible, reusable, manageable, and meaningful wherever it needs to go.

Are we “future-ready, flexible, reusable, and manageable”?

Our business-critical student recruitment content currently isn’t “future-ready, flexible, reusable, and manageable”.

As a result we encounter risks, costs and missed opportunities:

  • Business units across the organisation duplicate rather than reuse content, which leads to:
    • increased content management costs due to duplication of effort
    • exposure to the risk of CMA legal action
    • risk of damage to reputation when things like fees and admissions decisions are contested
  • Developers beyond the University can’t utilise our content in their services, and as a result are more likely to misrepresent us in their 3rd party apps and websites
  • Opportunities to present content via search engine results pages, smart speakers and virtual assistants are missed
  • We waste significant editorial resource manually updating 3rd party sites we subscribe to in our efforts to promote our degree programmes
  • We don’t have the ability to gather insight and report on use of our content in a timely and efficient manner
  • Running experiments to inform future delivery via our website is significantly more costly when we can’t easily draw on golden copy data

Delivering authoritative single source that can go wherever it needs to

To achieve our goal of delivering authoritative single source that can go wherever it needs to, we need:

  • To think of our business-critical content as a service that empowers users and saves us time and money, rather than as an output like a brochure
  • Stable, robust, secure data locations for authoritative golden source content, that supports open access and reuse
  • Semantically rich content following established data schemas that will empower ‘consumers’ to use it appropriately, and makes new digital services quick and easy to spin up
    • For example, staff profiles published following have enabled the EdWeb Service to deliver richer website search results
  • To be able to respond to evolving user needs, making them confidently successful in completing top tasks how and when they want to do it
  • It to be easy for subject matter experts to curate their content to a high standard, regardless of their expertise in digital content management

What we mean by ‘a consumer’

We’re talking about another party using our data to add value to their digital service. This could be a developer of a skill for a voice interface virtual assistant like Amazon Alexa, a third party degree comparison website developer, or most importantly – ourselves. Not only do we need well structure content to feed the current website; we need it to help us explore and deliver digital services of the future – from website redesigns, to mobile apps, to chatbots, and whatever comes next.

What do you think?

We’ll be conducting reviews of the degree finder service in the coming year to help gather the insight we need to design future-friendly content, but in the meantime I’d love to hear what you think of this discussion prompt. Leave a comment or get in touch with me directly.

3 replies to “Future friendly prospective student content”

  1. Neil Allison says:

    A recent post on the GDS blog talks about what I cover above in a much more practical way, illustrating how they’re putting these principles into practice. Well worth a read.

    Read the article: Making GOV.UK more than a website by Sam Dub

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