In the wake of UCAS figures revealing 2012 applications are down by 7.7 per cent on last year, specialist digital agency Nomensa is today warning that UK universities are missing vital applicants by failing to treat prospective students as online consumers.

With competition for university places higher than ever and imminent changes to the UCAS admissions process, Nomensa is urging universities to take a more intuitive online approach online or lose valuable applicants.

The warning coincides with the launch of Nomensa’s new Whitepaper, ‘Enhancing the university submission experience’, based on a review of current university websites and market intelligence, and a rigorous user centred design process across 88 students to test redesigned prototype screen blueprints against both existing university websites and the UCAS site.

The Whitepaper highlights key information gaps and support failings in university website design recommendations for improved user experience, information content and design, setting out precise and field tested recommendations for the improved design of these sites. The findings showed an overwhelming preference for the screen blueprints including e-commerce/consumer elements such as expand/collapse panels, comparison tools, student reviews, links to other relevant sites and recently reviewed sections.

Nomensa CEO Simon Norris explains,

“Since the increase in tuition fees, choosing a university has become the second biggest purchasing decision most people will make after buying a house. In response, universities should be providing an optimum online experience for those browsing their institutions and courses.

“Our research has found that despite the gravitas of the decision, universities are sadly lacking in their provision of online support to students at key points in their decision making, which would help them to find the right course and location, and effectively market the institutions.

“It is clear from the success of sites like Amazon, M&S and Zappos that users value design which is attractive, clear, concise and easy to use, and most importantly which enables them to make a well informed decision with properly linked information. If universities incorporated some of the popular techniques used by online retailers to reduce confusion and improve the process, they would undoubtedly boost student numbers and funding. Having to search multiple sources of information is time consuming, and contributes to ineffective decision making. This is when a university’s information experience becomes an attribute, and a determinant of that university’s suitability for selection.”

The Whitepaper also highlights how potential applicants are being subjected to frustrating ‘digital ping-pong’; being directed back and forth between several sites during their online search, and how universities are failing to optimise multi-channel user experiences or effectively link into social media.

‘Enhancing the university submission experience' is available for download

Published on: 3:13PM on 24th September 2012