Open days and other events intended to attract potential new students to Warwick or offer holders to accept offers, are activities where a particular focus on consumer protection provisions should be brought to bear.
(a) Answering questions
It is likely that staff in attendance at open days; giving presentations and on-hand in academic departments will be asked questions they cannot immediately answer. In such circumstances, staff should be encouraged to ask someone more knowledgeable if possible, and refer enquirers to specific services where you know specialist knowledge or expertise resides. Otherwise, take an enquirer’s details and arrange to get back to them after the event. There are lots of experts at Warwick who can help, but if you don’t know who to contact the best resource is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(b) Discussing when and how change takes place
The learning experience in a research-led institution means that the curriculum and learner experience evolve: through the appointment of new staff; the development of new teaching and assessment methods, staff bringing their research interests into new modules; new services and facilities in which the University invests. Applicants and visitors should be encouraged to see this flexibility and change positively, understanding that it contributes to the richness and diversity of their experience and that teaching by leading, research-active practitioners necessarily means that things to do not remain static.
Please speak to applicants who may have concerns about change, to reassure them about the SSLC system and other forms of student consultation and representation, noting that changes are intended to be in students’ interests and that departments plan their curricula over a long period of time. Clearly there will be factors such as staff turnover that may affect some elements of departmental curricula. Where niche optional modules are offered by a member of staff arising from their own research interests and where other staff may not be able to teach such a module, consideration should be given to considering how to ‘protect’ this area and reassurances that it may be possible to give to applicants or enrolled students.
(c) Using Student Ambassadors
Student ambassadors, who make a substantial contribution to marketing and recruitment activity, should be encouraged to speak from personal experience, e.g. ‘when I studied this module it was like this…..’, rather than ‘this module is taught in this way’ which might imply a generic and enduring experience which cannot be guaranteed. Student ambassadors should be encouraged to discuss current conditions affecting courses of study rather than speculate about the future, e.g. ‘Currently, core contact hours for this course are 10 per week with typical combinations of optional modules giving you a total of 14-18 contact hours per week’, rather than ‘If you take this course you will have 20 contact hours per week’.
Care should also be exercised to ensure that student helpers are briefed about their personal responsibility with respect to consumer protection legislation when engaging social media activity or blogging on behalf of their department. Institutionally-managed provision should be clearly identified as such, and student blogs or other student-led initiatives referred to as providing an account of current students’ experiences, the implication being that whilst these may be useful and helpful to applicants, a distinction must be made between institutional marketing channels and other forms of activity in which a student voice is just that. The Communications Office is developing some guidelines for departments to use when training such students, to enable them to manage risk appropriately.
(d) Impact of student choice
Warwick is relatively permissive in a number of areas affecting the student experience. The nature and extent of student choice in terms of module choice on some courses is very considerable. The flexibility offered in terms of assessment methods also means that cast iron guarantees about the proportions of taught and assessed elements may be impossible to give and clarity as to the reasons for this should be provided. Students and applicants have considerable scope at Warwick to shape the nature of the course they study and the use of some generic statements is sometimes a function of a significant degree of student choice which should be viewed positively.
(e) What if … our tone of voice is highly aspirational?
All staff should at all times be careful to describe provision, services, experiences, in a tone and using vocabulary which is clearly rooted in evidence available to applicants. A curriculum may well be informed by cutting-edge, world-leading research. However, elements of departmental practice or institutional facilities or provision that cannot be described this way, should not be. Where it is possible to evidence claims with credentials please do so (ensuring the course is properly referenced), use examples and case studies and where possible the student voice, in the form of quotations, for example, to back up statements made.
Please be alert to the potential to mislead applicants, supporters or current students by omission. For example, an applicant’s ability to pursue their studies successfully where they may have a specific learning issue by virtue of having heard that ‘Warwick does lecture capture’ may be problematic if care has not been taken to ensure that they know whether appropriate online learning resources are provided for the totality of the course for which they intend to apply. Inflating the nature and extent of what is provided is also misleading; staff should only promise what they know the University can deliver.
(g) Open Day checklist
(i) Make sure you have current and accurate answers to likely questions. Check with colleagues who are information owners as necessary.
(ii) Make sure you know who the expert contacts are for areas in which you don’t have strong knowledge so that you can refer enquirers rather than responding with uncertainty. Check where specialist facilities or services are based in order be able to direct enquirers.
(iii) Consider suitable forms of words for responding to predictable questions.
(iv) Arrange a way of making a note of questions you can’t answer honestly and accurately (and contact details), so you can arrange for a colleague to follow up.
(v) Be aware that potential applicants and their supporters attending open days may bring along devices enabling them to record presentations and conversations in order to capture information and provide a resource subsequent to their visit upon which to make decisions affecting their eventual choice of destination.
(vi) Keep referring applicants back to institutional level advice and guidance provided via the Warwick study pages and resources managed by SROAS who are auditing the information they provide in the light of Competition and Markets Authority requirements.
(vii) Ensure this information is circulated to all colleagues.