To the casual observer, many universities can look similar.
They’re perceived as institutions and campuses where
students seek to obtain a degree differentiated only by name
and location. But is that all?
This superficial similarity belies complex variations
between institutions of higher education. These can range
from those that focus on global rankings or quality of
research. Others turn attention to their ability to attract
researchers and graduate students, teaching and education
missions. Yet others focus on attracting higher paying
foreign or out-of-state students and alumni community
Often within an institution, these different priorities are
at play and can make creating a website that meets the needs
of all stakeholders a seemingly impossible task. But with
the following 10 tips, it is possible to navigate this maze
to arrive at an effective solution.
Manage Diverse Stakeholders by helping
them see the bigger picture. Stakeholders in higher
learning institutions are conditioned to focus on their
own departments, faculties and/or schools and are
passionate and articulate in doing so While it is
necessary to understand their specific needs, designing
group exercises to help them frame these needs within the
larger context of the entire institution’s
objectives and target audience/s can help them see the
larger picture and prioritise important decisions. Being
very clear about these help the project proceed smoothly.
Design Around Key Audience Needs, Not Internal
This seems obvious but organizational structures in higher
learning institutions such as Admissions, Schools /
Colleges, Research Institutes etc often exert incredible
pressure to organise the website around these internal
structures. Unfortunately target audiences such as
prospective students look for information in a
counter-organizational manner. Admission information
cannot be dissected from programme and curriculum
information. Students looking at Engineering might also be
interested in degrees in Mathematics, Physics or
Economics, so structuring the information around specific
colleges or schools would not work. It is therefore
important to understand the different user journeys and
structure the content around the most important ones.
Meet Stakeholder Needs. Once you have
designed a structure around key audiences, you will still
have to meet the needs of internal stakeholders for
structures organized around schools / colleges, research
institutes and departments like admissions. It is
important that you meet those needs. They support the
missions of these sub-units and most importantly are a
part of the deeper user discovery journey. A user that has
finished his/her initial screening and is ready to
deep-dive into researching an Engineering degree is now
ready to learn everything about the College of
Engineering. Just make sure that these structures are
connected to the larger context.
Design One Place for All Programmes and
Most higher learning institutions offer many programmes
and courses from many different schools and colleges. It
is useful to consolidate this in one location so that a
prospective student can search for all programmes and
courses easily but allow many paths of access. If the
selection is very large, the application of eCommerce
frameworks like recommendation engines, filter functions
can be very useful.
The same approach can be applied to information required
by other target audiences;
- Research Projects
- Faculty and Staff
Search Optimize Faculty and Research Listings.
Many higher learning institutions’ reputations are
built upon their faculties and research. Make sure that
these are search optimized to maximize the exposure of
this critical information. Also make sure that this
information is easily found on the website because
research collaborators search the higher learning
institutions’ websites for research projects and
Integrate the Data. These is usually a
large amount of data to present and cross-reference.
Programmes, linked to individual courses, cross
referenced to faculty, industry projects.
Research projects cross referenced to faculty and
researchers and vice versa
Keeping all this information up to date will be a
logistical nightmare if the data isn’t properly
structured and integrated. Make sure you plan and design
this upfront to facilitate a smooth implementation and
fuss free data maintenance and update.
Avoid Information Silos by cross
referencing information. Higher learning institutions are
built around a collaborative culture, and that is a key
source of strength. Programmes and courses, faculty, job
opportunities, industry collaboration, schools, research
etc and all be linked together into a rich web of
collaborative relationships that reflect the exciting
reality of what actually goes on within an HE.
Automate to Minimize Manual Tasks.
Chatbots are useful tools to automate most frequent and
repetitive queries, especially questions surrounding
admissions. This frees up the staff to focus on more
Personalize to Engage. With so much
content clamouring for attention, the higher learning
institutions website can be a little overwhelming for a
visitor. Personalization around audience type or interest
can significantly reduce the clutter, present the most
relevant aspects of the higher learning institution and
drive greater engagement. Information that is ripe for
personalization include Programmes, Research, Faculty
& Researchers, Events and News. A prospective student
interested in a particular area of study can be presented
hub pages with information skewed towards his/her interest
area facilitating information discovery and engagement.
Provide for Overseas Students. Higher
learning institutions are reaching out to overseas
students more than ever. Consider the needs of those
students from language, speed of internet access, culture
and local regulations.
Language. Even if you are not yet ready to support
different languages, make sure your site and software
is multi-language capable, so that you have that
option when you are ready.
Internet access. Your site might load well in your
home country, but it is usually a very different story
in other countries. In China, generally sites need to
be hosted within China in order to deliver acceptable
Culture. While it is difficult to understand the
cultural nuances of the vast world out there, it is
very useful to be sensitive to the most pertinent
aspects, like using images with the correct ethnicity,
avoiding taboo subjects, understanding language
variances. Even for the same language across different
national boundaries, there are significant difference,
not dissimilar to the differences in English between
the US, UK and Australia.
Local Regulations. Be careful not to run afoul of
local regulations. Understand the data protection laws
and other regulations. For example, Indonesia law
requires all personal data to be stored in a server
residing in the country.
While the above list can sound daunting, systematically
considering these factors that are relevant to your higher
learning institution will deliver a website that will serve
your institution’s needs for years to come and enhance
the first impressions for your target audience.