University support services aim to help students solve all sorts of personal problems quickly, so they can return to focusing on what they came to the university to do: learn. Accessing and using these services should be simple, free from barriers or confusion. But every student’s needs and situations are different, and how all of this works together is part of providing a positive student experience.
The University of York started a programme of change and invited us to review their frontline services to help improve the student experience. Together, we identified a user-centred framework that focuses on the need for inclusive redesign, built around the needs of student individuality.
The university’s equality, diversity and inclusion strategy supports staff to be flexible and adaptive to the needs of their diverse university community while adopting an inclusive campus approach.
During interviews, observations and workshops, we found that students are divided into segments such as ‘postgraduates’, ‘international students’, ‘parents’ and ‘remote students’. We attempted to align with this framework while analysing student interviews but came across some challenges.
An individual student can belong to multiple segmentations, as a student can be postgraduate, international and a parent. Different segmentations can also have similar challenges. A parent, someone on a placement and a student in a wheelchair can all find physically accessing the services on campus too time-consuming in their schedules.
We realised the university did not need a framework that focuses on who the students are, but on how their needs impact their access to support. We needed a new way to differentiate individuals to understand:
- how aware a student is of the support available
- how confident a student is in the process
- how a student is able to access and use the support available
Understanding individual user needs
We interviewed many students who had a good awareness of the types of support they could receive and were able to confidently access and use these services. But not all students had such a smooth experience. For some, accessing support becomes an additional challenge to the personal challenge they’re trying to solve.
With small adjustments, the university could make many existing services more efficient, supporting students to self-serve and allowing staff to focus on those students with more complex needs.
We found that some students need to overcome obstacles when trying to access services.