An innovative collaboration between a graduate of Jisc’s student startup competition and Swansea University has been recognised with a nomination for a Times Higher Education (THE) Award.
Swansea University’s online multi-device student voice platform, Unitu, was developed by a team which took part in the 2014 Summer of Student Innovation (SOSI) and went on to be one of the first startups assessed under Jisc’s new step up programme.
Unitu, which has been shortlisted in the 'Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year' category of next month’s THE awards, was introduced at Swansea to improve on traditional mechanisms of engagement, which relied on highly motivated students and do not always provide a true reflection of students’ experience.
The platform allows students to post and comment anonymously on college and university-wide boards and staff to respond, promoting meaningful discussion.
A "close working relationship"
Sophie Leslie, student partnership and feedback development officer at Swansea University, said:
“Unitu has been transformative, challenging the cultural norms around feedback and positively disrupting staff and student views of how they engage with each other. It has also been instrumental in providing a voice for students who are often hard to reach.
“We are very proud to be nominated for a THE award. This nomination demonstrates the importance that Swansea University places on student engagement and working with students to improve learning and their wider experience across the university.
“The close working relationship we have built with the Unitu team is key to the success of the tool. We would happily work with similar small edtechs in the future as a result of this work.”
An idea born from experience
Unitu was developed by a team led by Anish Bagga and born out of his own student experience, which included frustrations that his voice and those of his fellow students was not being heard.
The first version of Unitu was launched shortly after his graduation in 2012 but disappointing take-up of the project in its early months forced a rethink. Anish said:
“We realised that what we had built was not what institutions needed.”
At this point and when he was looking for funding, Anish heard about SOSI – now part of Jisc’s student ideas competition - and realised that it could help to develop the product into something that potential customers would be more likely to use. He said:
“Before SOSI, we had pressed pause on further development, and continued our conversations with staff and students. As a result, we developed a new version in the form of a design prototype of what we envisioned could solve a key problem in helping institutions better engage with the student voice.
“After we won £5,000 in the competition, we had hired two interns and a freelance web developer. Within three months we were able to build three applications, for IOS, Android and web and roll Unitu out for two institutions.”
Assessed by Jisc
The Unitu team is now working with ten institutions in higher and further education. The enterprise is also taking part in Jisc’s step up programme, which assesses emerging startups against key sector requirements, awarding the ‘assessed by Jisc’ badge to those which can be trusted to deliver on their promises.
“This accreditation supports efforts to bridge the gap between education institutions and startups and helps us in our demonstrations and move the conversation forward with institutions. Going through the step up programme offers potential university partners more reassurance.
Jisc’s director of edtech Andy McGregor said he was delighted to see the partnership between Swansea University and Unitu recognised for its work with a nomination for a THE award:
“I have had the pleasure of working with Unitu over a number of years. We first worked with them as part of our SOSI competition and were impressed with their drive, clarity of vision and desire to help students.
“We have continued to work with Anish Bagga in shaping how Jisc should work with startups and Unitu was one of the first startups to be awarded the Jisc step up badge, which assesses which new projects are ready to be piloted or procured by universities and colleges.”
The THE award winners will be revealed on Thursday 28 November 2019, at a ceremony in London.
Any members interested in collaborating with edtech startups can read our guide for senior leaders - championing the untapped potential of edtech startups.