How co-design can create positive student experiences

At THE Campus Live UK&IE 2022, Nous Group explained that recent studies shine a light on how institutions can prioritise the student experience

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25 Nov 2022
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Jessica Weereratne, director of Nous
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Delivering a positive student experience depends on listening to and learning from students, whatever their experiences. During the 2022 THE Campus Live UK&IE event, Simon Lancaster and Jessica Weereratne, principal and director respectively at international management consultancy firm Nous Group, spoke about Nous’ international study of how institutions can gain a clear picture of the entire student journey and deliver a better experience.

“We speak with a lot of students regarding what the university experience looks like for them,” Weereratne said. “Recently, we conducted a study with nearly 200 responses looking at how institutions can make the holistic, end-to-end journey outstanding. It also looked at reasons why universities can struggle with delivering positive experiences. They all have aspirations in this area, but delivery can present challenges.”

Validating the survey outcomes presented an opportunity to highlight some practical examples that universities are employing to deliver a good student experience. “We don’t like to talk about best practice because what works for one institution is not necessarily what’s right for another,” Weereratne added.

“There were four macro-themes that we identified in the survey results,” Lancaster continued. “There is clearly a tension between the rating that universities are giving themselves in terms of experience and the general feeling in the sector. Secondly, it’s evident that there is no silver bullet. It was also clear that there is not a huge amount of difference between jurisdictions. And finally, scale does make a difference.”

With regard to scale, for example, Lancaster noted that only 47 per cent of larger institutions believe they are delivering an outstanding student experience – a figure that was significantly lower than that found within small and medium-sized institutions. In terms of priority areas, other differences emerged too. Larger universities spoke more of challenges around enrolment and funding, while smaller institutions were more concerned with technology and organisational design.

In terms of the project work that Nous Group carries out with universities, it has become evident that persona work can be hugely beneficial, as can student co-design.

“It is interesting that in the study question where we asked about the most effective methods universities can use to deliver a positive student experience, co-design kept coming up,” Weereratne commented. “But when we asked how universities currently involve students, co-design was mentioned far less often. Co-design is clearly valued for its efficacy, but it is not employed particularly extensively. The reasons given for why co-design is not necessarily implemented are time, cost and an inability to understand what it means.”

In understanding the student experience, universities must engage with learners, empowering them to share their lived experiences, motivations and pain points. For example, one university that Nous Group has worked with has set up a student panel where they pay learners to share their views during the project design process. Another has employed a series of agile sprints involving staff and students.

“At universities where we’ve seen student experience being delivered particularly effectively, institutions have been really clear about business rules. They’ve taken a case management approach,” Weereratne noted. “Many universities feel that their current mode of operating is not appropriate to deal with the increase in support demands they are seeing. A case management approach can help here.”

The research undertaken by Nous Group has highlighted that there is no point in adopting a lift and shift approach. “Universities must remember that technology is just an enhancer; you still need organisational change or the student experience will not live up to its promise,” Weereratne said.

“As we continue to analyse our survey results and look ahead to creating future studies, we will continue to work closely with institutions to create better outcomes for students around the world.”

The results of the Nous Group Student Experience Survey will be released in early 2023.

Find out more about Nous Group.

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