The University of York was looking to start a programme of change to review its frontline services and improve the student experience. The University wanted to review these services to improve student retention and completion rates, and by extension, their overall league ratings.
York set a vision for 2030 which includes developing an integrated student experience, recognising the changing expectations of students in higher education. Central support services are a consistent point of connection for all students and this project offers an opportunity to show what a good, connected student experience should look like.
York wanted to provide a joined-up, coherent and consistent offering to students, whether accessing services in-person or online. Taking a design-led approach to this initial discovery and concept design project, we focused on first-hand student experiences and needs.
We defined our areas of focus as student and academic services (student life, wellbeing, careers and placements)estates and campus services, finance (fees and cash office). Other access points (academic supervisors, both student unions and the library helpdesk). Working collaboratively with student-facing support services, we undertook a 10-week discovery to understand the student and staff experience of using and delivering these central support services.
To gather evidence, we ran desk research, contextual observation and interviews with six services, two receptionists, four college staff. We also conducted over fifty pop-up interviews with a range of students in various locations around campus. We then conducted 11 individual in-depth face-to-face student interviews.
To understand patterns in how the university website support pages were used, we used website analytics and tracking data on enquiries at the information centre, careers, placement receptions and the student hub. To understand the staff experience we ran focus groups and workshops with staff, consisting of three show and tells and academic supervisor focus groups.
We also attended conferences and other higher education institutions to hear what others are doing to improve central student services. This provided us with good knowledge of lessons learned and good practice whilst expanding the university's network.
We discovered that students often look for support when they already have a problem that needs solving.