All universities work hard to attract new students and to continually develop and enhance the student experience and their changing needs.
The introduction of a new student fees and loans system and the current economic climate puts a growing emphasis on careers support. Teesside University has invested in ‘wrap around’ support for students from the moment they join the University. That help continues once they become an alumnus.
There is a well-developed curriculum which embeds the wider skills students need to ensure they are ready for employment and have the skills employers are looking for. Added to this, the University has a number of wide ranging initiatives to support students, ranging from skills workshops to work placement schemes. Teesside wanted a ‘one stop shop’ where students could find out detailed information on all these schemes. Information was disseminated in many different ways, some accessible online, some paper based or housed on notice boards around the campus. The University had already invested in SharePoint for use as an intranet site and chose to develop this software further to create a single site - with one central repository - named the ‘Get ahead’ portal.
The portal was required to:
- provide the ability to interact with the users, encouraging student interaction
- provide an easy to use, publicly accessible portal with a centralised searchable database of opportunities;
- enable browsing of opportunities by the relevant skill, academic School central department and by the name;
- use a design and layout that appealed to a student audience;
- provide a portal that supported both anonymous and AD authenticated users.
The Get Ahead portal
Waterstons won the contract for the Get ahead portal through competitive tender. Having previously worked with and supported Teesside University on other discrete projects, Waterstons’ excellent knowledge of the University’s business, business processes and IT infrastructure was key to the success of the project.
Waterstons took an agile software approach to creating the portal; enabling greater flexibility in design and allowing the product to evolve to be tailored to the University’s exact needs. By using this collaborative approach with the University’s IT team, any new ideas that arose during the process were able to be included in the finished product.
This constant discussion and reprioritising of ideas, coupled with rigorous project management, meant the end product differed from the original specification, but did not result in higher costs or extend the project’s lead time. For example, the collaborative process allowed a jobs bulletin and social sharing functions to be incorporated, along with other user experience enhancements such as randomising search results so as not to favour any particular opportunities and design improvements to make the user experience as easy as possible.
It was also key that the portal be easy to use and allow students to search the portal for specific initiatives relevant to them in 4 key areas: by opportunities, by school, by department or by postgraduate initiatives.