Further and Higher Education, focus on the basics - time to deliver better value for money.

In the past few years, particularly since tuition fees were introduced, the higher education sector in the UK has been working much harder to attract students.

This means that marketing budgets have increased and are in some cases as high as £3m per year.

To attract the best students, a significant proportion of this money is allocated to digital marketing channels including websites, social media and dedicated apps.

But in the race to present a more engaging digital experience than the University on the other side of town, some educational establishments are failing to look after some of their site and content basics.  

The Q2 2019 UK Universities and Higher Education INDEX from Sitemorse – an independent benchmark for websites based on elements such as accessibility compliance, performance and broken links - reveals that some websites in the sector are failing in these critical areas.

A healthy marketing budget does not guarantee a good website. There can be a tendency for teams to focus on the front-end experience and SEO, but it is possible to forget about some of the fundamentals of website management.

For example, various universities including the University of Central Lancashire and the University of East London have significant annual marketing budgets (over a million pounds), but the INDEX reveals that their respective websites score so low on basic web accessibility compliance that we even exclude them from our league table.  

Any public sector site that scores zero out of ten of accessibility is considered unsuitable for ranking, regardless of their performance in other areas.

In fact, a total of 134 out of 349 Universities and Higher Education institutions benchmarked by the INDEX are excluded on this basis, a highly surprising statistic given most institution’s commitments to accessibility.

However, it’s not all bad news.

Some University websites are focusing on digital improvement and excelling in areas such as compliance. For the third quarter in a row the University of Derby, having climbed over 200 places in the INDEX based on a new website launched in July 2018, heads our league table. 

The University of Derby’s Digital Marketing Manager, Rob Fowles, said:

“When we first hit the top of the Sitemorse INDEX with our new website, we were delighted, particularly in terms of our accessibility rating. To have maintained that position for the third consecutive quarter is testament to the talent and the hard work within the department.


“This ranking demonstrates our commitment to quality, not just on the surface but at a technical level as well. It is one way of showing us how our website is performing against similar organisations – and that we are heading in the right direction.

“We believe higher education should be equitable, inclusive and open to all - and that includes our website. We are opening doors for everyone.”

Lawrence Shaw, Sitemorse CEO, commented :

”It’s great to see the University of Derby leading the way with digital standards in the UK Universities and Higher Education sector. Their tireless work on their digital transformation project has been effective. Derby have risen 275 places over the last 12 months to the top of the table. It’s encouraging to see organisations improving user experience.”

Some of the higher-spending institutions indicated in the Guardian article are also spending their budget wisely – for example Anglia Ruskin University is within the top twenty for the quarter and University of Central Lancashire has risen over 100 places (103). Other colleges such as Runshaw College are seeing the results of their hard work on delivering an excellent and compliant website.

Top ten websites

  1. University of Derby
  2. London South Bank University
  3. MidKent College
  4. Shrewsbury Colleges Group
  5. The University of West London
  6. Newman University
  7. South Essex College of Further & Higher Education (Partner of the University of Essex)
  8. Myerscough College
  9. Heriot-Watt University
  10. University of Lincoln

Five most improved websites

  • Cardiff University (rising 178 places)
  • Sir George Monoux Sixth Form College (rising 169 places)
  • University of Worcester (rising 156 places)
  • Loughborough University (rising 151 places)
  • New College Stamford (rising (149 places)

Lawrence Shaw, said “The levels of poor accessibility in the sector shows that there is a lot of work to do. Despite healthy marketing budgets, digital teams across the sector urgently need to up their game and focus on the basics.” 

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