Harnessing technology to improve the student experience

With increased university fees, high living expenses and the knowledge that up to 160 graduates are chasing every job, students in the United Kingdom are becoming more selective about where they choose to study and this game changer is having an impact on universities. Students want to extract as much value as they can from their academic learning.

As formal complaints against universities have shot up since the new fees came in, evidence suggests students do not always feel they are getting good value for money.

A good student experience is about giving students what they want. It is relevant not only when a student is at university, but before and afterwards too.

Online application processing is one method of improving the overall student experience; a way for universities to step up the quality of their service and do more for less. The whole process of enrolment should be as smooth as possible for incoming students, to give the right impression, as should their dealings with the university after they graduate.

The long-term nature of student loans for fees means that a university can effectively have a relationship with a student that lasts 20 years. Knowing how to manage this efficiently is a key evolutionary step that needs to be taken.

Findings from two recent Capita surveys revealed that 61% of UK university staff believe the student experience is the most important factor when attracting students.

The results from surveys recently carried out, at the conference of Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association, or UCISA, in Liverpool, and at the Student Records Officer Conference, or SROC, in Sheffield, also revealed that only 30% of respondents indicated academic reputation as the key driver, and just 9% put their money on the importance of competitive fees.

The results point to the step change that has occurred in the sector. It seems that the often deeply entrenched views of society on what is expected from a university education are being challenged, with students and lecturers alike having to adapt to a new kind of reality.

Virtual campus

By 2015 there will reportedly be an estimated 62 million smartphones in the UK. Seven out of 10 16- to 24-year-olds now own one, and the level of data consumption via smartphones has doubled from 71 MB in July 2010 to 154 MB in February 2012.

Harnessing the power of mobile technology can contribute to an improved student experience, which in turn helps to ensure an institution becomes the first choice for students.

Investigating how universities were introducing new technologies to improve the student journey, our surveys showed how popular mobile apps have become on campuses. Having a campus map (55%), access to timetables (53%) and keeping students up to date with news (52%) were the most common app features adopted by tech-savvy higher education institutions.

The rapid rise in smartphone and tablet ownership inevitably means that the university campus will become more virtual. It is vital that universities use all the tools available to them to enhance the student experience, and this will increasingly include lecturers being able to access their whole management information system via mobile devices.

Similar in nature to the popular United States portal, ‘Rate my Professor’, the UK comparison website ‘Rate your Lecturer’ invites students to share comments and rate lecturers on measures such as approachability, feedback and support.

Students are already paying their accommodation fees and accessing resources and library records on their tablets and mobile phones.

Furthermore, as reported in the Guardian newspaper, participants in a recent Higher Education Academy roundtable agreed that virtual study groups can work well, although they were less enthusiastic about the educational benefit of online lectures.

Collaboration is key

There is more that can be done. Higher fees and more demanding students mean universities are increasingly striving to engage better with their students and move to more collaborative relationships with them.

Mobile apps can help with this in ways that universities might not have thought of. In the survey, only 28% of respondents planned to use their app for surveys, yet apps are a cost-effective way of gathering students’ views on the issues that matter to them.

In a diverse marketplace, students can afford to be increasingly discerning about where and how they study.

Institutions that choose to be more innovative, to improve their chances of being students’ first-choice destinations, must harness mobile technology to improve the student experience and deliver an education that is fit for the 21st century.

* Mark Harvey is UK sales manager for Capita’s further and higher education business. Forty-six managers from UK universities responded to the UCISA and SROC surveys.


The pre-university experience of trying to get in to UK universities is by far the worst I have ever experienced and I would probably tell others looking at going to the UK not to bother. It is so disjointed, poorly organised, and very restrictive.

Christopher Weir on the University World News Facebook page