The organisations who participated in the course data programme expected to see their greatest and most immediate benefits in the form of improved student recruitment, particularly in areas such as postgraduate and online provision where courses were previously hard to find, as well as in better informed student choice leading to better decision-making and hence improved retention.
By the end of the programme they were taking a much more holistic view and understanding the full scale of potential benefits of better course information management through the entire lifecycle. This guide was published prior to the first recruitment cycle using the improved systems and processes, therefore the analysis is qualitative rather than quantitative, but early indications are that the learning providers are expecting to see the benefits realised.
"Perhaps the most important anticipated benefit, though one which we cannot yet demonstrate, is the effect of improved information being available to students and prospective students. We are confident that our course pages present more comprehensive accurate information which is also better formatted and presented than previously. We hope this will lead to:
- Improved satisfaction levels for those using our webpages
- Increased and better targeted recruitment and
- Improved retention rates and
- Reduced demand for mid-course subject changes"
University of Kent
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City College Norwich realises that the improved structure and clarity of its new dataset allows it to publish the data in much more intelligent ways to facilitate learner choice…
"…there is the potential to publish “stock levels” eg “this course has three vacant places”. Because we understand our data so much better we could go further eg “this course is full but xxxxx course offers a similar route and character.”
"In a competitive market it is the institution that can offer the most informed choices that will succeed. XCRI-CAP enables us to offer those choices and we shall continue to investigate ways to make use of this."
City College Norwich
The University of Sussex reports that, although final impact cannot yet be judged, it feels ‘some satisfaction‘ that almost a third of a million page views of its undergraduate prospectus took place during the first term operation of the new data feed.
City College Norwich noted: ‘The College believes that it offers the right courses for its area. It has also come to understand that it is potentially losing recruits to other institutions through lack of the best course marketing information.’ and believes that it has addressed this issue through the activities carried out as part of the Jisc course data programme. The college also believes that improved recruitment will also be matched by a corresponding increase in retention:
"It is believed that, through having a better understanding of what a course entails before enrolling students are more likely to make correct decisions about course compatibility – and thus dropout rates should fall."
The University of Salford has not only improved the processes around its continuing professional development (CPD) courses such that it expects increased recruitment through better visibility and decreased costs through simplified administration, it has also simplified the registration process for learners:
"As well as an improved level and visibility of information about the courses they are interested in, learners also benefit from being able to see details of all courses they have attended and any awards gained. This is an advantage in itself but also makes booking new courses simpler as the system can already check that they have the required prerequisites for the course and if so, won’t ask for proof."
Understanding student needs
Plymouth College of Art undertook research into the types of information students were looking for when applying for courses in the arts and this enabled it to design its new course information system with a better awareness of student needs in relation to making informed choices. It found that students wanted more information about the people who would actually be teaching them and it therefore worked with existing arts students to create staff portfolio profiles.
This has proven so successful that there are proposals to extend this so that prospective students can also view the work of current postgraduate students in order to gain greater insights into the nature of the institution and its courses. The college has created an aggregation site that is open for use by all specialist art and design institutions which is visually stimulating in order to meet the expectations of the target audience and which highlights the unique features of specialist and small art and design institutions.
This is a particularly significant development given that the subject discipline as a whole faces significant risk due to the decrease in public funding.
The approach taken by the arts institutions to meeting the needs of students in their particular discipline areas has parallels in work undertaken by the University of Essex who looked specifically at the needs of postgraduate research students. Again students wanted more information about the University’s research supervisors as well as research subjects being actively pursued within its academic departments and the University has been able to extend its course finder toolset to include this information.
The University of Lincoln undertook a focus group with students to better understand what information they looked for when applying to the University. The outcome of this workshop was analysed and written up on the project website. The top ten responses were:
- Course content information
- Provision of specialist equipment
- Case studies (or similar) of previous students
- Lecturer profiles
- Similar courses
- Information about the city
- League tables
- Relationship between grades and UCAS points
Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education also worked with student focus groups to improve the relevance of its course information to their needs and the input and suggestions from students have resulted in planned developments which will include:
- new slideshow options
- potential virtual tour of new university centre building
- podcasts of interviews with students
"The improved quality and accessibility of information will ensure that the right students are placed on the right courses, resulting in improvements in student retention and success that impact not only on Myerscough College but across the sector."
"The improvement in data quality has enabled us to confidently market our course information to a wider audience. As an institution better quality information means that we have now focused on the end-user and can confidently offer advice and guidance…"
"…it means that students are able to understand differences between similar courses and perhaps the impact of their decisions when they wish to change modules or transfer to another programme."
"In some ways the project has been a victim of its own success. Before the project students were having trouble finding training, now they are having trouble deciding which course they should be attending."
University of Oxford
"There has been a noted rise in attendance at University open days where students are generally able to get more detailed and up to date course information [than is available on university websites]. Other students are unable to attend these events and universities need to consider whether they can afford not to provide up to date detailed course information more widely for those who want to consume it electronically."
University of Hull