The student experience: what is it and how do we improve it?

By Neil Bellerby, Director of MonitorIT

In truth, the student experience isn’t just one thing we can place our finger on. Rather, the student experience is a vast array of individual factors such as the quality of teaching, accommodation, the quality of food and drink on offer and the accompanying service, the ambience of community areas, sports facilities; the list goes on. 

Improving the overall student experience is an ongoing process of assessing where enhancements can be made. Sometimes this might mean making large overhauls – a new accommodation block, brand new sport facilities or a new music hall? Unfortunately, we cannot undertake large projects continually given financial and people resource is under forever-increasing pressure.

It’s on this note that I’d like to refer to comments made by Sir David Brailsford, British Cycling Performance Director 2003-2014. After two successful Olympic Games in 2008 and 2012, where the GB Cycling team topped the tables with eight golds in both years, Sir David was asked about his ‘marginal gains’ philosophy which had underpinned the team’s success.

Sir David responded: “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

Sir David’s theory of ‘marginal gains’ does not need to be consigned to the realms of cycling or sport. Searching for where marginal gains can be made, and following these through, can help businesses thrive, individuals flourish and universities deliver the very best education. 

This brings me back to the student experience, and the fact that a better experience is likely to lead to higher engagement, retention and performance. 

To positively affect the student experience, we need to seek out Sir David’s ‘marginal gains’.

We desire a system which would integrate with a universal ID token which all students have – the university ID card

One area for potential gains is in the ease at which your students can access goods and services around campus. Here, we’re referring to buying your lunch in the catering area, releasing a print job, buying a drink in the student union, purchasing a coffee from that well-known franchise, booking a trip, paying for your laundry, grabbing a packet of crisps from the vending machine… we could go on but you probably get the picture. 

Students make a variety of purchases on-campus but very rarely is there a common payment form across all areas. Maybe some places only take cash, others take credit and debit card payments but sometimes we have to spend over a minimum threshold to use a card – not ideal. Perhaps for printing, we can use our University ID card to release a print job. The ID card is linked to a print account which we can top-up online or in cash. Maybe there is other ‘on account’ systems utilising the ID card, the problem being that we end up with multiple accounts in multiple systems – a cause of frustration. We might even have to distribute multiple cards for each different system.

What do we do about international students? Often they have issues accessing a UK bank account, and as such, it’s not uncommon for those coming from overseas to arrive in the UK with £1,000s in cash. If I was an international student, I would likely spend my first few days or weeks worried about the amount of cash I’m carrying, rather than truly enjoying the delights of UK university life! 

How many ‘marginal gains’ do we think Sir David could identify for us here? A lot, I’d imagine! 

We need a system which can integrate with, or provide all the points of sale we identified earlier; one platform to manage all on-campus spending, regardless of where we are. We desire a system which would integrate with a universal ID token which all students have – the university ID card (or mobile ID perhaps?). A single common payment platform incorporating all areas of the university to help enhance a student’s experience and sense of belonging.  

One system for all points of sale, reduced operational overheads, less cash to administer, improved student experience. Sir David will indeed be proud of the ‘marginal gains’ we can make – we only now need to follow them through.


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