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Embracing Personalisation to Kick Start a Digital Transformation in UK Higher Ed

Seismic shifts can test an industry’s ability to change and adapt. But what about when two major market changes occur, just months apart?

In this blog, we’ll discuss the impact of some significant macroeconomic events on the higher education industry in the UK, and how they now present universities and colleges with an opportunity to lead the digital transformation of their industry.

Nick Condon

Written by

Nick Condon
Managing Director - EMEA
14 January 2022

How have two turbulent years impacted the UK higher education sector?

On January 31st 2020, the UK voted to leave the European Union. Forty days later, Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic. As we all know, the months and years that followed were turbulent, to say the least.

In higher education, institutions around the world have since grappled to provide students with digital alternatives to in-person lectures, communications and campus experiences. As students were forced to study remotely, in some cases even in different time-zones, it quickly became painfully clear which institutions had neglected online student experiences – and which ones had successfully pivoted.

In the UK, universities have emerged from post-lockdown life only to be faced with the additional impact of Brexit – predicted to lose more than half (57%) of their first-year EU students and £62.5 million per year in tuition fees.

State of the student experience in the UK

As expected, student sentiment took a major hit across the globe in 2020/21. The expectation of spending a year on campus, learning in face-to face settings and socialising with friends was swiftly and brutally replaced by months (in some cases, years) of Zoom calls, emails and chat rooms. But, interestingly, even during the pandemic, not all student experiences were equally disappointing.

In the UK, students rated all areas of the university experience harshly – in particular, the delivery of learning and teaching, which a mere 46% of students rated as satisfactory. This is in stark contrast to Australia and the US; in Australia student ratings of the quality of their entire educational experience dropped by less than 10% (to 69%), while in the US, overall experience satisfaction levels actually increased during 2020-21.

Delving deeper into the UK findings:

  • Only 46% of UK students agreed that their institution provided a good online environment for collaboration
  • 35% felt that online learning materials were engaging and
  • 60% felt they were able to communicate effectively using their institution’s digital platform.

The importance of a personalised student experience

Just before the pandemic, a global survey revealed that the majority of students (81%) expected fast, personalised responses to their online questions and enquiries. Similar US studies have shown that personalised communications and experiences can be an influencing factor in students’ enrolment decisions, as well their level of engagement throughout their study.

For UK universities still lagging behind, there’s increasing evidence to suggest that post-lockdown students are likely to have higher expectations of their online experiences than ever before. A recent report revealed that not only are more students (59%) prioritising “high-quality online teaching”, but that ‘innovations in teaching and learning will need to be accompanied by high-quality support systems, such as timetabling, registry, student support, and more.

“Universities will soon realise that students have fluid expectations. We are

competing for user experience with places like Amazon – that’s the expected


Daniel Perry, chief information officer, Keele University

What’s holding UK universities back in website personalisation?

For more than 20 years, Squiz has been working closely with some of the UK’s top universities – including UCL, University of Edinburgh and London South Bank University. In recent years, we’ve identified five common barriers preventing many UK higher education institutions from delivering better online student experiences.

Top 5 barriers to website personalisation

  1. Publishing content instead of delivering experiences.

    While web managers, content strategists, marketers and leaders acknowledge that more advanced applications of digital content, technologies and practices are becoming essential, cultural, organisational and technological obstacles are preventing progress.

  2. Universities are struggling to keep up.

    Creating, publishing and managing increasing amounts of content, across multiple websites, with tighter resources and smaller teams – all of these factors can make website personalisation seem less and less achievable.

  3. Teams working in silos.

    Frustrated by an inability to instigate change across the wider institution, managers and influential practitioners within marketing, content and web ops teams are taking on small projects for small wins. This is a common occurrence in large, long-established organisations across any industry, where systems, processes and mindsets are often ingrained and very difficult to disrupt.

  4. Solution providers are underutilised and undervalued.

    Service providers that implement technology solutions are an untapped resource, with digital expertise that can move their clients along the transformation curve and help them to achieve their web personalisation strategies. Unfortunately, once engaged, progress and collaboration are often hampered by narrow scopes, tight budgets and internal resistance to change, leaving many providers to do little more than support under-resourced teams.

  5. Digital capabilities are there – if universities are ready to use them.

Within the higher education sector, there are several comprehensive, robust CMS solutions with extremely advanced website personalisation capabilities. In the past, many institutions have been slow to move beyond using core content management functionality; but, as we’ve seen, taking advantage of the full array of website personalisation tools on offer will help universities to transform their student experiences, well beyond the pandemic.

Lead the charge - start personalising student experiences today

Universities that start personalising student experiences today will be best placed to meet and exceed student expectations tomorrow.

While digital transformation may seem like an impossible goal, many universities already have the necessary technology at their disposal – they simply need the expertise and guidance to start implementing simple yet effective personalisation strategies now.

At Squiz, we cut through the perceived complexities of personalisation to create seamless digital journeys that can help your students to feel valued, supported and engaged.

If you’d like to learn more about how Squiz can help you to start personalising your student experiences, check out our previous blog posts, Stop Procrastinating, Start Personalising, and Creating a Connected Campus During the Pandemic, or request a demo today.

1. EU exit: estimating the impact on UK higher education, UK Department for Education, (Feb 2020) 2.  2020 Student Experience Survey, Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment (Mar, 2021)
3. 2021 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report, Ruffalo Noel Levitz, (2021)4. Student digital experience insights survey 2020/21, Jisc, (Sept 2021) 5.  International Higher Education Report: Student Trends 2019,, (2019)
6.  Technology-enabled teaching and learning at scale: A roadmap to 2030, Jisc, (Jun, 2021)
7. Jisc, (Jun, 2021)

Nick Condon

Written by

Nick Condon
Managing Director - EMEA
14 January 2022

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