The Quest for the Single Point of Truth

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24 Apr 2017

Marketing, CMA, Prospectus, Higher Education

The Quest for the Single Point of Truth

Guest Blogger: Angelina Bingley, Director of Admissions, Recruitment & Marketing at the University of East Anglia sets out some of the challenges involved with meeting the requirements of the Competitions & Markets Authority.

 

Last month my team celebrated the arrival of our brand new 2018 prospectus. We felt it was definitely our best one yet and, in true Great British Bake Off style, we marked the occasion with tea and cake.

But the minute we’d sent out copies to our academic colleagues the corrections came flooding in. As ever with hard-copy publications, they are out of date as soon as they are printed. Our star bake turned out to have a slightly soggy bottom.

Like most universities we gather the content for our prospectus at least 18 months before the eager prospective student actually arrives to start the course and in that intervening time changes can be made to our courses for a variety of academic reasons: validating bodies’ requirements; student feedback; staff changes etc.

So in the new world of Competition & Market Authority (CMA) rules, how do we guarantee what we are promoting nearly two years’ in advance (five years if we talk about third year modules!) is what the student will get when they arrive?

We could just make everything vanilla, with bland course and module descriptions in our publications and online, or better yet scrap the printed publications that cause so much angst to produce. However, I think only the University of Chichester so far has been brave enough to do this.

Even online content, where we point people to find out the latest information, can only be as accurate as the information we have at the time. And if we don’t provide detailed course and module information at the time of student choice then how can universities differentiate from each other and help prospective students’ decision-making?

The Quality Assurance Agency recently produced a guide to help institutions with CMA compliance http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/year/2017/CL,052017/ and to ensure our information is clear, accurate and transparent. However, as we all know, what sounds simple can prove to be very complex when it comes to translating it into our organisations. For example:

- Validating bodies: don’t work to the CMA timetable and a course accredited until 2017 for example, may not receive its reaccreditation until that year. If we’re therefore promoting it in our 2018 prospectus it is technically not accredited as we cannot guarantee reaccreditation and this needs to be made clear.

- Timetables: I note with a wry smile that we need to advise when timetables will be made available….enough said.

- Systems and processes: the big one for me as we need to work out how to help and support academics update their courses and modules two years’ in advance rather than six months as is the current practice. We also need to develop more robust systems to cope with change, as that inevitably will happen and should happen, but we need to ensure we tell prospective students in a timely fashion. For UEA, this is about developing a single point of truth, as currently we have different systems: Student Record System, CMS, CRM where information is held as well as separate processes for module update or prospectus content gathering for example. How does this all get pulled together?

Compliance is important and we all recognise the need to ensure prospective students are making their decisions based on accurate information however, big changes are needed to make this happen.

Angelina Bingley
Director of Admissions, Recruitment & Marketing
University of East Anglia