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Happy International Service Design Day! Service Design in Higher Education Enrolment

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That’s a heading I never thought I’d write – but why not?  Service Design methods make services that work for everybody, and in an increasingly service oriented culture it’s something we desperately need more of.

A couple of years ago we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do some Service Design work with a University in the North around student enrolment.  The standard enrolment period in September/October is a busy time for students, many of whom are leaving home and working out life stuff for themselves for the first time.  This University was finding low student satisfaction with the enrolment process, and we were brought in to look at it from the students’ points of view specifically to see what changes could be made.

Here is some of the advice we were able to give on enrolment:

Make it a celebration!

Yay! You made it!  Welcome to University!  Here are all the wonderful things you’re going to be able to see and do and learn now that you have your student card!

So often Universities see enrolment as a series of necessary admin tasks to drag these poor students through and get over and done with.  Students are often left worn out, confused, saddened and a little lost in all the drudgery.  The key point we wanted to make was that this may be a peak of annoying work for staff, but for each individual student this is a huge event, which colours their entire view of the University, and the choices they’ve made to get there.  At every stage it should be treated as a celebration – they’ve done well, they’ve arrived at something they’ve been striving for, and, yes, the next couple of months are going to be tricky while they find their feet, but the message at every turn needs to be that this tricky spot is going to be worth it, and they are going to be supported.

Welcome to the 21st Century

Many Universities are notorious for an unwillingness to let go of paper processes.  While some have embraced the online revolution, I think it’s safe to say that most are a bit behind the curve.  For every bit of paper a new student has to remember to bring to the right place at the right time, there is a chance for the system to break down.  So let go of paper – wherever possible, let students provide information electronically. Preferably get them to do it in advance, so that you can let them know exactly what’s outstanding, before they make a potentially very long journey to get to you.  Some things will still need to be done in person and will need to involve paper, but the less paper you require, the better it will be for everyone.

The Space-Time Continuum

A timetable that requires a student to be in two places at once is about as helpful as one that requires them to travel to campus from their job/childcare arrangements/home two buses away for 5 mins before leaving again.

The enrolment timetable may be the trickiest part of the whole enrolment experience, but arguably the one that will make it go smoothest.  No one wins when students are pulled in every direction at once.  Universities have mastered this (to an extent) when it comes to timetabling teaching time, but enrolment activities tend to be organised in a separate process that can leave students with decisions about whether to go to their very first lectures or induction events or get their finances sorted.  But the geography of these things also needs to be considered: making students run half a mile across an unfamiliar campus because of appointments that almost, but don’t quite, overlap, is stressful and isn’t likely to result in the enrolment processes running on time either.

Although staffing large chunks of time is obviously a problem, any flexibility that can be given to students will ease their constraints and make them more likely to be physically capable of making it to their appointments…whether they actually turn up of course depends on the student.

It’s the little things

As anyone familiar with Service Design will probably be aware, most people actually don’t mind queuing (and we’re not just talking about the British).  Give them some space, a nice environment, some idea of how long it’s likely to be and a chance to sit down, and people aren’t generally too fussed.  It’s a bonus if you can provide some form of entertainment, even if that’s just information about the next stages of enrolment, or doctor’s surgery magazines.  This should not need to be said but: kettling is never pleasant.

Signage was the other big problem we found at this particular University: having a sign on a door that they need to go into say “Authorised personnel only” because that’s true for the rest of the year, isn’t terribly helpful.  Walk through the spaces you want your students to walk through – it’s the biggest boost you can give to your process.

On doing a bit extra for your students: this is a stressful time for most of them, and there will be those who have extra needs in order to manage this.  If you can provide a well signposted quiet space for students to take a breather before diving back into the melee, it can make their lives a little easier.  And this doesn’t just have to be for students who have medically diagnosed needs: plenty of other students value a chance to have somewhere to collect themselves.


These are just some of our headline points on Service Design in enrolment, and we’d love to hear about your experiences – leave us a comment if you’ve been through this process in your University.

If you would like more information about our findings on enrolment processes, or help with Service Design in your University, please get in touch at jennifer@alanpaull.co.uk.


Written by jennifermdenton

June 1, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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