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We used Umbraco Open Source technology to deliver key information about undergraduate courses across the Unistats website and all higher education course pages.

The Challenge

The Higher Education Funding Council for England promotes teaching and research in higher education institutions. Its university comparison website, www.unistats.ac.uk , provides independent data for all UK higher education undergraduate courses. HEFCE wanted to improve its online services for prospective students as part of the government’s transparency agenda and ‘Digital by Default’ policy.

We commissioned Fluent Interaction, a user experience design agency, to test the existing site on stakeholders nationwide. Feedback from the focus groups uncovered problems with the site’s navigation and identified a need to improve the user journey. One of HEFCE’s main aims was to make sets of information about undergraduate courses, known as Key Information Sets [KIS], available to prospective students. This information needed to be kept up-to-date and publicised across university course pages.

HEFCE also wanted to:

  • Promote the KIS across all higher education course pages
  • Enhance the user search experience
  • Widen audience accessibility
  • Enable the website to cope with fluctuations in traffic demand
The Solution

We used Umbraco Open Source technology to deliver the KIS across the Unistats website. The data is promoted via a widget that is easily embedded onto all higher education course pages. The KIS data is automatically updated weekly and fed into the widget using Eduserv systems. The raw data is available to the general public through a data portal.

We built an advanced search facility using Solr, an Open Source Enterprise search platform, to enable multi-preference based searches and results to be displayed on a map. The content was developed in English and Welsh helping to widen audience accessibility. The website can detect mobile devices and gives the option to visit a mobile-friendly website. Extra features, such as a course assistant, custom views and the facility to add notes, have been designed to support prospective students through deciding which course to study.

Unistats is hosted from our Data Centre in Swindon removing the need for HEFCE to invest in data centre facilities. Our virtualised hosting makes it easy and cost-effective to scale up and meet fluctuating traffic demands during the announcement of exam results.

Results
  • The website received more than 3 million views in the 6 months following its redesign.
  • Provides up-to-date and comparable Key Information Sets.
  • University staff can easily embed widget onto web pages.
  • Access to data portal to support the open data initiative.
  • Content in multiple languages widens audience accessibility.
  • Comprehensive search engine and device friendly website enhances user experience.
  • Website performance and availability unaffected by periods of high traffic.

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