We work with several universities helping them understand the value of their online presence and feel the need to respond to the article in the Daily Telegraph on the 16th of November.

The article in the Telegraph takes one data set;  expenditure on website development and places it as a cost on a single value proposition; student experience, without considering to monitise the other important purposes of the university website. We consider this to be unbalanced:

The article quotes Robert Gordon University that one role of the website is the attraction of international student, but fails to try in anyway to provide a value for this. Our work with universities allows us to estimate that the university website is key to bringing potential revenue of anywhere between £1million to £5 million in applications from international students every month (1). As around 60% of international courses are 2 or 3 years in length the final revenue can be multiplied several times. This revenue generation is equivalent to that of a single purpose commercial site such as a car manufacturer.

The university website also provides a large cost saving to the university in providing online application and information. Although the full benefit of this we have not measured, the basic savings of applications and prospectus being downloaded from international prospective students can be between £5,000 and £10,000 per month(2), a conservative yearly saving of £60,000. Please remember this estimation is just for international students, therefore the total savings will be vastly higher.

In transferring the cost of site redevelopment into the number of current students the Telegraph’s article ignores the amount of information the website supplies to current students and staff. The university site is the equivalent in size (tens of thousands of current students and thousands of staff) to a company intranet that is a multi-national, such as a bank or petro-chemical company. On a yearly basis the university website will deal with anywhere between 12 million and 60 million individual information (3) requests from current students and staff. Even if we were to put the cost of redevelopment solely down to current students and staff information requests and ignore the website purpose as a marketing tool the cost per information request would be at most 1p to 2p and at best a fraction of that, far less than any offline cost. In our opinion this give a more realistic value spend on student experience than that given by the article in the Telegraph.

To summarise: The university website is rather unique in its scope as a revenue generating tool equivalent to a car manufacturer, as a provider of forms equivalent to a central government body and as a provider of information similar to a multi-national companies’ intranet.  If we compare it to the similar cost of these other websites they provide remarkable value for money.

We are spending many hours helping universities understand and optimise their web presence as well as working on new methodologies to calculate real value. In no way are university websites perfect and the student experience needs to be improved, but proper analysis of value and cost should take in the whole purpose of the university website rather a simplistic analysis on only one area.

Ranjit Sidhu

(1) here we have used several methodologies, but the main basis is to take the number of applications online and forecast through previous years a. conversion rates and b. revenue. These figures are further broken down by a. individual country, b. non EU/ EU revenue and also c. Indivudual departments fee structure and length of course.

(2) this measure is the saving in offline costs in both printing and the individual postage to the seperate countries.

(3) Visits for information from current students or staff