From prospect to alumnus: Newcastle/Glasgow

Jisc are currently working on and exploring four key co-design challenges:

  1. Research at risk
  2. From prospect to alumnus
  3. Effective learner analytics
  4. Building capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency

You can find out more about each of these challenges and the co-design approach via Jisc’s website at:

Each challenge is actively working to consult the sector to help inform where Jisc should focus its effort. In this post we’d like to share with you some of the feedback we’ve had so far from two consultation workshops (one in Newcastle and one in Glasgow) focusing on “From prospect to alumnus”.

This is the second post relating to this consultation, to view a summary of the London and Birmingham consultations see:

Structure of the consultation workshops

The two workshops were participatory in their nature to try and get as much input as we possibly could from each attendee. We used a mixture of individual activities so that everyone had the chance to participate, but also wider group discussions which helped to tease out some of the cross-cutting themes.

The following list describes our approach:

  1. Student lifecycle. We asked each participant to highlight their experience in relation to the student lifecycle. Where do individuals or their institution experience highs (things that work well for them) and lows (issues/barriers/road blocks).
  2. Individual case studies. Using one of the issues from the “student lifecycle” activity, we asked each participant to write an individual case study pertinent to them. These were then mapped onto a matrix–one axis focusing on who the issue affected (individuals, departments, institutions, through to the wider sector and beyond) whilst the other axis focused on how many of the student lifecycle stages the issue affected.
  3. Solutions. Participants were then asked to vote on what they thought were the most pressing issues that Jisc needed to focus on. The top issues were selected and attendees were then given time to consider how these issues could be resolved.

Invites for the workshops went out through a range of communication channels including, but not exclusive to: NUS, UCISA Corporate Information Systems Group (CISG), Relationship Management in HE/FE, funding agencies, and NCUB.

Workshop findings

Experience in relation to the student lifecycle

There have been a number of reports focusing on the student lifecycle and different interpretations of what it does and does not include. We used the Jisc “Landscape Study of Student Lifecycle Relationship Management” as a foundation for discussions during our consultation, see Figure 1. Each participant was asked to annotate the model, highlighting lows and highs experienced along the journey.

Figure 1, student lifecycle stages used during this consultation.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 16.37.32.png

A number of issues, similar to our previous workshops, were highlighted. Particularly around: staff skills/competencies; having a more joined-up approach, both systems and processes; and influencing vendors to address sector requirements.

Areas where institutions noted particularly good experiences focused on the automation of administrative tasks, allowing staff to focus on more value-added activities. So for example, self-service student portals, online applications and registration. Delegates did note a word of warning here in terms of the quality of data eroding where students did not understand questions being asked of them.

Delegates also noted that they have a lot of data available across the institution. The difficulty is using that data to best effect—a comment that also came up in our Birmingham workshop. This was an area where delegates felt there was a real skills shortage across the sector, in terms of being able to interpret and visualise the data. One key issue, brought up in both the Newcastle and Glasgow workshops was data retention. How long can various datasets be retained, when can we delete it, who is responsible for it. All questions that a good business classification scheme and records retention schedule can help to answer, however, with a new focus on learner analytics and “big data” it might be useful to revisit guidance in this area.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) was highlighted as another key topic. The Newcastle workshop focused on the use of CRM for managing enquiries pre-application and ensuring that data was correctly stored and joined-up to application/registration stage queries, the main issue being that there is no student record pre-application. The Glasgow workshop raised questions about the multiple instances of CRM use within an institution, in particular Alumni Vs Marketing. This evolved into a much wider debate about whether CRM actually worth the effort.

Timetabling was another area many institutions are still struggling, particularly in terms of linking it to data available from other systems. The Glasgow workshop actually raised it as a major piece missing from our student lifecycle diagram (Figure 1) citing it as one of, if not the, major issue affecting student experience. This relates to timetabling of lectures, room utilisation, and also assessment and feedback i.e. deadlines.

Individual case studies

The following are summaries of the case studies voted as the highest priority for Jisc to address (all other case studies are plotted on the matrix and forms completed by attendees are available)


7 Votes – End to end CRM

There are discrete processes at every stage of the student lifecycle supported at various points depending on what faculty or service you’re in – this results in fragmentations in the process and supporting systems often do not talk to each other. Processes are designed to meet the needs of the university rather than the needs of the student. It is a multi-stakeholder issue with multiple agendas which don’t always complement each other. Institutions are a big ship to shift – it is difficult to change course on such a big issue. It’s also not just about technology – student needs and processes are also important.

Affects: Potential students, existing students, academic staff, support staff, graduates/alumni
Impacts: Whole lifecycle
Complexity: 8/8

5 votes – Student portal and joined up data.

Do we want a student portal? What should it look like? Should it be seamless and look the same at every stage of student journey and for every student in every circumstance? OR does interaction of students vary over time? Do we even want a portal in the first place? Either way we need to join up the data behind the scenes – we have disparate systems and a myriad of issues.

Affects: Existing students
Impacts: Partially – Widening participation, pre-application, application, alumni. Fully – Pre-registration, registration, induction, learning/teaching/assessment, pastoral care, employability/placements/careers services/graduation
Complexity: 7/8

5 votes– non-standard programmes.

Postgraduate research students can start at any time of year, and can progress to the next stage of their studies at any time. Systems that support students are set to the academic year. Increasingly more and more taught students as break the traditional timescales i.e. programmes starting in January but student management systems are based on September to July. Staff often need to break the rules to fit the IT, with potential legal issues (i.e. Home Office if international students finish their studies in January but the board isn’t until July). Diversification of programmes and partnerships/collaboration also an issue as they are creating more non-standard students. We are starting to need increasingly imaginative ways to record students to give access to systems, but avoiding double reporting to HEFCE.

Figure 2–matrix of issues discussed at the Newcastle workshop

P2A Newcastle Matrix


8 votes – too many disjointed systems which capture student data but do not speak to each other.

Because of multiple systems and data capturing tools we are reliant on staff having a certain level of IT skills. Some people who have been in an institution a long time do not have these skills and we’re not doing enough to upskill people. Should we be upskilling people to be able to access data, or should we be making accessing data simpler?

Affects: Potential students, existing students, academic staff, support staff, graduates/alumni
Impacts: Whole lifecycle
Complexity: 8/8

6 votes – Everyone tells me the university needs a CRM system.

There are two aspects – the first is around student recruitment, segmenting, enquiries etc. The second is around managing the student experience and using CRM to manage the student journey. It is often not clear what the roles and responsibilities are when it comes to CRM – they can be blurred at times. There is also a degree of scepticism around CRM but also a desire to manage student experience

Affects: Potential students, existing students, academic staff, support staff, graduates/alumni
Impacts: Whole lifecycle up to graduation
Complexity: 7/8

6 votes- student induction and re-induction – make it meaningful.

We need to get students off on the right footing, and give them best foundation for the rest of their career. This begins before they arrive. We need to look at induction from a student focused perspective rather than what managers need. A big issue exists with user IDs and passwords – by the time students become students they have different accounts in over 3 or 4 University systems. Students end up with different passwords on enquiry, application and to get into student portal, notified by a different welcome system with a different password. We need to manage their identity as they go through the lifecycle but we make it complex for students.

Affects: Potential students, existing students, academic staff, support staff, graduates/alumni
Impacts: Whole lifecycle
Complexity: 4/8

Figure 3–matrix of issues discussed at the Glasgow workshop

P2A Glasgow Matrix

Idea Generation

Common themes arising:

  • Process review and improvement is vital if the sector is to come close to implementing a lifecycle-wide CRM system although there are doubts as to whether CRM is the answer.
  • Non-standard programmes are becoming the norm which existing systems struggle to cope with. Focus needs to be on the student as opposed to modules and programmes.
  • “Simplify the process(es) No! enable the complexity!”

  • Student portal allowing students to manage their own data, but ensuring it links to other systems available across the organisation ensuring a seamless service.
  • More effective data governance to prevent a silo-mentality. Systems are bought to suit a specific department’s business case. It must adhere and join up with the organisation’s wider strategic aims.
  • Identity management emerged as a key theme—one username and one person to access organisational services.

Final feedback–what stood out? What should Jisc take forward?

We’re all facing similar issues but are trying to tackle the issues in different ways. The sector can learn from each other and share good practice as we attempt to address the P2A challenge. It can be difficult to engage people within the institution so it’s good to be involved in a pan sector discussion.

Getting the tech industry that supports HE to think in a more flexible way. Jisc could help HEIs get want they want from the providers of systems. The more we can influence those who provide systems the better for institutions. A collective view from Jisc could help influence sector wide discussions with providers.

Addressing this challenge is important – Jisc are onto something here. Everyone is looking at a more flexible future – Jisc needs to address this at a national level. The issue is complex with lots of different stakeholders and it won’t be easy to tackle. The fact we all have the same issues highlights that the students are suffering.

The challenge is also enormous! Knowing what size is best to be trying to address the problem is difficult – by trying to do it all could achieve nothing. Too small and it could be too focussed – we need a balance. Because of its complexity, what would be useful would be a set of principles which institutions can be thinking about when deciding what approaches should be taken.

Realising that the systems have been built around the needs of the university, not the students.

Silos exist – both departmental and systems. We need to think about how we encourage people not to work in these silos and break down barriers. It’s a common problem across the sector.

This post was co-authored by Marc Dobson and Andrew Stewart.

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