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University of Manchester Enhancing The Student Experience

By Darren Wake, Business Development, TLF Research

With nearly 40,000 students, the University of Manchester is one of the UK’s largest and most popular Universities.  Also, being ranked 48 in the World University Rankings, it’s an extremely popular choice with international students, with students from 180 countries choosing to study at Manchester.  

With changes in university financing and the introduction of tuition fees, higher education has become increasingly competitive, with universities having to find new ways to attract both UK and international students.  Employability, academic reputation and arming students to face a tough job market are increasingly important, as is improving the student experience.  

The Problem

For the 8,000 students living in the University’s 29 halls of residence across 3 campuses, the University is responsible for a very large part of the student experience. Consequently, the Accommodation Management Team were keen to further understand and improve the students’ views of their experiences in their hall of residence.  According to Paul Burns, Accommodation Office Manager in the Directorate for the Student  Experience,  “It is imperative we understand the ‘student experience’ and the more open channels we have with our student residents the better we can gauge their opinions.”

The University already conducted an annual satisfaction survey with regards to the accommodation and had a complaints procedure, but lacked a communication channel which could collect feedback and comments from students on an on-going basis.  Real-time feedback would highlight any issues or areas for improvement regarding maintenance, security, pastoral care, catering, internet provision or any other important element of the students’ experience in halls of residence. This would enable Accommodation Management to react immediately to any problems and it would provide reassurance to students that the university really does want to hear what they think – good, bad or indifferent – about their experience of living in hall.     

The Solution

Working with The Leadership Factor, the solution was an online feedback channel, available 24/7 that students could access to provide their feedback.  The feedback channel starts with a very short web survey, with a small number of qualification questions, followed by a few specific questions on a particular aspect of hall facilities or services. These questions tend to be changed on a monthly basis and so far have covered the moving in process at the beginning of the academic year, the pastoral care system and internet provision. Finally students are asked to share their thoughts on any aspect of their hall of residence experience in the form of a text comment, video upload or audio recording.  This new approach allows students to give their feedback in whichever way they wish.  It is possible for them to record a video or audio using a webcam or smartphone and simply upload to the feedback channel, just as if they were uploading something to Facebook.  

The comments and media files are then received by TLF, analysed and coded as required and put into an Opinion Dashboard designed for the University.  As well as showing all text comments, the audio and video responses can also be played within the Dashboard.  The user of the Dashboard is also able to filter the content using various segmentation variables such as by campus, hall or comment type.  

In addition to the Dashboard, a summary report with frequencies of comment types and analysis is provided to the University on a weekly basis, and any comments regarded as ‘urgent’ are flagged as ‘Hot Alerts’, meaning they require immediate action.  As well as the central Accommodation Management Team, this information is very useful to staff on the ground in individual halls and to contractors providing specific services.

All students who leave their name (they could choose to remain anonymous) are personally responded to so they know their comment has been heard and will be acted upon.  Students who have not taken part also receive general feedback the student newsletter and through a weekly email sent by Accommodation Management to all residents in halls. 

‘Don’t just talk, BE HEARD!’

The University has successfully promoted the feedback channel by branding the whole mechanism as ‘Don’t just talk, BE HEARD!’

Through this branding, the feedback channel has been promoted using social media, on email signatures, email news bulletins, university publications and signage in the halls.  Regularly promoting the feedback channel to students has resulted in a high level of awareness of the channel, and a large increase in the number of students providing feedback.   

In the 3 months since going live, the feedback channel has received 1,400 pieces of feedback and 1,300 individual students have used the channel, which equates to 16% of all the students in halls.  The text, audio and video comments have provided an insight into the student experience of living in halls and have helped the Accommodation Management Team to identify areas for improvement.  According to Paul Burns, “Even the ‘negative’ comments about our services have been offered in a very constructive format and have helped us better understand our customers’ needs.” The feedback is also used in managing the contractors who are responsible for services like repairs, maintenance and catering.

The feedback channel and Opinion Dashboard has proved an effective way to obtain opinions from students on an-going basis and has already helped to improve the student experience.

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