Which kind of HEI website do you have?
Compared to private sector websites, university websites have never been easy to develop and manage. For many universities, including red bricks and Russell Groups, websites grew organically - and fast. By the time people knew how important the website was, it had 20,000 pages, and sported many different looks and feels; many of which seemed to have been last updated with the design of the Penny Farthing bicycle.
Others saw mergers, and attempts to reconcile pages from one Content Management System (CMS) with pages from another. Post-1992 and 'plate glass' institutions often got to start with a blank slate for the web; with less content and fresh branding, often on a crisp, modern CMS, they showed how innovation could go a long way. For some, the growing pain with a university website was the CMS solution. To others, it was organisational; many universities struggled to blend marketing and IT activities.
Finally, there was 'doing it properly'; reinvention, which I've had a hand in delivering myself. The design and build of a new, modern world for your digital web presence. The exodus from the creaking old world, taking the healthy content and leaving the ROT (Redundant, Outdated, Trivial) behind. New CMS, a new look/feel, new content. Brilliant, and how it should be done. Often a huge project, but well worth it.
Challenges aren't new…
In short, challenges aren't new to university web teams. The bar has always been high for universities.
For example, specialised DDA requirements, accessibility and internationalisation. Delivering mobile and responsive frameworks. Rebranding.
Keeping all your departments, the administration and your audiences happy.
All critical and important, but often tricky to wrangle, especially if some sites are on a CMS, some were hand-built by the Computer Science department, some are on Wordpress and some are in Mandarin. Or Welsh. Or both. All in a day's work.
...but there are new challenges
Just as universities found their foothold with digital – delivering mobile, social media, apps and more – new challenges came from left field. Just when we were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it seemed more tunnel got delivered.
KIS (Key Information Sets) came along. Great news for both HEIs and prospective students, but effecting the change was difficult for a lot of universities. Obstacles came in the form of old CMS systems, clunky course pages, and in some cases, narrative content that didn't quite add up to the newly juxtaposed statistics.
Cookie legislation brought design challenges. Social media brought governance challenges. Tuition fee increases brought further design and content challenges, not to mention an increasing need for a university’s digital presence to deliver a more competitive edge. Rebrands often came as part of the package.
If you've faced web or digital budget cuts, as many universities have, you probably had much sharper challenges to overcome too.
The latest - and to many, greatest - challenge to hit universities is the recently-published guidance by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Universities across the UK need to update content, course information and web pages to ensure they hit the mark. The greatest challenge is often locating, cataloguing and effecting changes to content - not something all HEIs are equipped to do quickly and cost-effectively, due to many of the legacy issues I've touched on already.
A way forward
Challenges change, but a consistent approach can be applied. Firstly, most digital challenges are related to the User Experience (UX); CMA compliance is critical, and usability - from ease of use, to joy of interacting with a digital service - is also hugely important. By focusing on the management of your user experience, you are not only able to more effectively deal with any new changes as they pop up, but you become more competitive in your digital offering. You set your own quality bar. And you find yourself meeting and exceeding this level as well as, in many cases, becoming exemplars.
If CMA is still on your mind, if you're still trying to wrangle course pages and content to ensure you're providing the best information for your students, take control by getting in touch with Box UK’s award-winning dedicated UX team. We’ve honed our process for a range of industries, including investment banking and academia, where accuracy of information and a quality user experience is paramount. And if you're on top of CMA already, consider pro-active UX management through activities such as usability testing or an expert usability review?