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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

Recapping the highlights of our collaboration with the Student Immigration Service

From January to May, we collaborated with the Student Immigration Service (SIS) to improve the student experience around applying for visas. In this post, I recap the highlights and outcomes.

How we ran the project

This was the first project for my newly formed team. Neil and I were committed to introducing new team members to the human-centred design process, and that the SIS team were prepared to fully collaborate in delivery.

Key features of our approach

The key features of our approach were:

  • evidence based: putting student need at the core of everything we did and starting with a dedicated period of user research
  • agile and iterative: planning in short bursts of work and allowing space to evolve what we delivered when we saw how it worked for students
  • collaborative: ensuring time each week for SIS specialists to work with our content designers to develop new material, envisage new approaches and watch how students interacted with our prototypes

Dawn Hodkinson, the Head of the Student Immigration Service, was incredibly supportive of our approach (having seen the impact it had in our previous work with the Fees Service) and ensured her team were available to collaborate when needed in the short bursts of work we did, called sprints.

The impact of our tuition fees project one year on

Agile scrum methodology

We ran the project using the scrum agile methodology, which saw each 2- or 3-week period of work involved dedicated slots for planning, review and reflection. This meant that we were refining our ways of working throughout, something that was particularly important as we grew into a working relationship with the team’s immigration advisors.

We also went into the process acknowledging we weren’t going to get everything right the first time, so a regular cycle of testing with users and refining before we moved on helped us collectively grow in confidence as we progressed.

Regular exposure to staff and students interacting with what we were building has been (and continues to be!) crucial to our personal and collective improvement as content designers.


The project ran from January until June 2022, and covered 6 sprints of either 2 or 3 weeks.

Beginning with a period of discovery, I allowed 2 sprints – 5 weeks – to explore the problems students encountered with the service from a range of perspectives.

Critically, we then played this back to the SIS team to ensure we were all aligned from the outset on which were the most important problems to solve – both for student customers of the service, and for the service deliverers themselves.

How we set up the project

The outputs

Each sprint saw us deliver a new piece (or pieces) of content to the SIS website.

Enquiry form

In our first development sprint, we redesigned the SIS enquiry form to encourage students to self-serve before submitting an enquiry. We also removed mentions of the team email address, and provided more links into the form at critical points in the website to improve enquiry channelling.

The form prompted help text when a user selected what topic their enquiry was about. This way, students could click through to a specific page with answers to the most popular types of enquiries before they submitted their question.

Sprint 3 recap: redesigning the enquiry form

Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) and financial requirements

We then moved on to tackle the two biggest areas coming out of the research, in terms of what students have the most questions about:

  • getting a CAS, an electronic document that generates a reference number needed in student visa applications
  • finding out the financial requirements to meet for a Student visa application

Our new designs reduced the complexity around these topics by introducing a series of steps for students to follow. We also broke the content down by audience type to ensure students only interacted with the content they needed.

Sprint 4 recap: new content for Certificate of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) and financial requirements

Applying for a visa outside the UK and document checklists

We worked with SIS to prioritise the next most important content area to work on and decided to focus on:

  • how to apply for a visa from outside the UK
  • what documents are needed to apply for a Student visa

Similar to our learning in sprint 4, our usability testing of the content showed us that the applying for a visa step-by-step guidance was difficult to understand when we grouped all audiences together.

As a result, we developed separate application guidance for EU/EEA/Swiss students versus non-EU/EEA/Swiss students. This change created a smoother experience by making sure students only see content that is relevant to them.

Sprint 5 recap: applying for a visa outside the UK and document checklists

Creating a new applying for visa section

Our final sprint saw us go live with an entirely new applying for a visa section of the SIS site. This new section also followed the new navigational structure we developed for it.

We also ended the project testing our new content with international students. These tests gave us helpful insights into which content changes students could understand and which they still struggled with.

We finished off the project by coming up with final changes to the content to mitigate the issues we saw in testing.

Sprint 6 recap: creating a new applying for visa section


Increased student success

Because we tested our work during every sprint, we could see first-hand that our revised content and new navigational flows were making students more successful in their top tasks.

When we saw points that were still causing confusion, we had the space in our workplan to go back and improve further.

While these were small scale usability studies, the anecdotal feedback we’re getting from SIS about their enquiry trends back up our observations.

A decrease in repetitive enquiries

In our final sprint, SIS told us that they had already seen a drop in repetitive enquiries that could be answered with site content.

Much of this had to do with the new enquiry form we created with them, which encourages students to self-serve.

We’ll next meet with SIS in the autumn to do a more thorough quantitative analysis of the effects of our content changes.

New content skills in SIS

We worked incredibly closely with SIS to develop new content. Our development sprints saw us pair write content together, and we worked to come up with content changes to address issues we saw in usability testing.

Through this collaboration, the SIS team came away with an understanding and appreciation for not only what effective content looks like, but how it can benefit their service.

A skilled content design team

The most important outcome to me was coming away from this project with a newly skilled content design team.

For Freya, Flo and Heike, this was their first experience of an end-to-end content design project. Freya saw the project from discovery through to delivery, while Flo and Heike joined the team as we started our development sprints.

Our excellent relationship with SIS made this a great project to take the team through and ease their way into the content design world.

We all came away from the project having enjoyed both the work itself and collaborating with the SIS team.

Ongoing improvement and collaboration

When we meet with SIS later this year to discuss the impact of our work, this will feed into content changes we need to make on the site.

Our goal is for these periodical reviews to become the norm. By continuing to collaborate with SIS, we can ensure that their website is delivering content that meets the needs of students using the service.

More about this project

See all blog posts about the Student Immigration Service project

Watch a video of our team presenting on the immigration project at the Web Publishers Community (starts at 5:52)

2 replies to “Recapping the highlights of our collaboration with the Student Immigration Service”

  1. niallb says:

    Thanks for sharing Lauren

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