To help prospective students make an informed decision when assessing their higher education options, Cardiff University wished to develop a tool that would calculate tuition fees, as well as present potential bursaries and scholarships, based on details submitted by users. It was hoped that this tool would drive enquiries and applications to the university by increasing the accessibility of this vital information.
The frontend user interface of the finance calculator, that would be visible to potential students, needed to be streamlined and intuitive for maximum ease-of-use. In addition an administrative backend solution was required that would enable non-technical members of the university team to easily manage the figures and other elements of the application.As the university wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible a strict deadline was put in place to ensure the tool was available when students were looking to apply for courses. Speed of delivery was therefore a priority concern, while maintaining the highest levels of quality and performance in the final deliverables.
Box UK used an Agile framework to manage the project; the sprint-based nature of Agile means that working software is delivered regularly, so that a market-ready product has the potential to be launched at any time. Agile also enables distinct activities including development, design, Quality Assurance (QA) testing and User Acceptance Testing (UAT) to be conducted in parallel for shorter feedback loops and increased speed of delivery, while making sure the project remains focused on overarching goals articulated at the start of the process.
To ensure that both the front and backend elements of the tool were usable, accessible and intuitive, the project began with a one-day collaborative workshop run by our User Experience (UX) consultants, where the scope of the project, including the underlying logic and all user journeys, was defined and ideas for the user interfaces rapidly generated using low-fidelity sketches. This activity facilitated the creation of a functioning prototype that demonstrated how the finished application would behave, and enabled sign-off to be achieved before any development work was undertaken; reducing the risk of unnecessary work and speeding up overall delivery times.
Following approval, development began using the prototype as a central shared reference point for everyone involved on the project. As accessibility was a primary concern for the university, the tool was built as a web-based application catering for the majority of modern browsers, with the jQuery mobile framework in place in the frontend to enable the solution to adapt to a range of mobile devices and platforms including Android and iOS.Various Symfony2 components were chosen for the main logic powering the calculations within the application; this was driven by data such as tuition fees, course lists and available subsidies that was uploaded by Cardiff University. In addition, translation capability was integrated across the application to cater for Welsh-speaking students.
The Undergraduate Student Finance Calculator provides anyone interested in attending Cardiff University with a self-service means of accessing clear and personalised information on costs and opportunities, ensuring they have all the information necessary to effectively assess their options, while reducing the workload of the university’s support network. The intuitive administrative interface means that the university can easily update figures and other logic elements, to continue to deliver current, accurate and useful information to their users.