…why the hell do UCAS need to fill all their correspondence to me with advertising if they’re raking in that sort of cash just from the students? In a letter I got a few weeks ago, I even had an ad for Argos ‘student essentials’ on the bloody envelope! Today, I got a letter full of adverts, the ‘letter’ part of which was for no reason other than to inform me that UCAS was a charity and they hoped the brochures were ‘useful’, and the income from them was giftaided to UCAS. Worse yet, I saw this on their Twitter feed this afternoon:
Preview our redesigned UCAStv video site going live on 15 Sept http://t.co/8nUWUzo – tell us what you think
What I think is that they should be spending a little less money on fancy video sites, and a little more on making sure their site’s up when people actually want to use it. Or better yet, ditch the video site and stop sending me so many bloody adverts. Not only that, but couldn’t they have (possibly) taken some of the money and hired some web designers who’d make something vaguely functional?
It might not be immediately obvious to anyone who hasn’t applied for a place at university in the last few years, but the UCAS site design is ghastly, and its information delivery is dismal. Unnecessary, pointless rubbish swamps the course info, and if you do want to find something useful, like, say, grade requirements, it’s buried three or four layers down, for no good reason. Not only is there no way of easily accessing useful data, which you’d think would be the bare minimum for a site designed to help students make important, life-changing choices, there’s not even a comparison tool, or anything like it, so you can’t, for example, get it to list English Literature courses from all universities, ranked in order of grade requirements or alphabetically, or something. You just have to keep lots and lots of tabs open. Which is, to be frank, a right pain.
Let’s use a specific example, shall we? So, say I wanted to find out what grades I needed to do (for instance) Maths at the University of Brighton – one of the most important factors in one’s choice of university. This, of course, assumes that you know what university you’re looking for. If you don’t… well, rinse and repeat the following, with some minor variations, for as many as you’re looking at.
After finding the various flavours of Maths the UoB has to offer (not as easy as you’d think, but at least the course selection isn’t as utterly hateful as what follows), I choose vanilla Maths. Any sign of the grades on the course page? Nope. Institution code? Start dates? No, I don’t care, I just want to know what combination of letters will grant me access. Below the boxed-out ‘information to complete UCAS application’ bit (how helpful!) we’ve got a plethora of options which may lead us to the answers we seek. “Entry routes”, “Prospective students”, “Student life”… let’s guess “Entry Routes”. Now, another mess of options – but thankfully it’s a tad easier – “Course Specific Requirements”, that must be it. See how obvious and easy it was? That’s from someone who knows what they’re doing because they’ve been through the process – goodness knows what some poor unfortunate coming to it for the first time would think. Even if it were more obvious, it’s still cumbersome and pointless.
I just find it hard to believe that such an apparently (but I’m no expert on UCAS financial arrangements, please comment if I’m mistaken) well-funded institution can do such a shoddy job. Were I Alex Leng (my Tory pal), I’d say insufficient competition were the cause of such inadequacies, but since it would be very difficult to introduce competition to the university admissions system without making things even more insanely weighted against students from lower-income backgrounds. I’d say it’s simply a case of insufficient focus on what the student wants from their system. Fortunately, it would seem to be eminently resolvable, if only they’d actually bother.
This probably come across as rather retributive, but at almost every stage of my university application process, UCAS have done just fine, which is why it’s so irksome to see them fall headlong over these ankle-high hurdles into pits full of bears on fire. To my mind, it’s obvious that your website should be geared to allow easy access to important information, that these days, there’s no excuse for your website to go down due to entirely predictable traffic, and if I’m forced to sign up to your service to apply to university (and pay you for the privilege), I really don’t care that you haven’t passed my details on to advertisers, you’re still sending me unsolicited advertising. Ultimately, I did pay for this, and I’d probably be a little less annoyed if it appeared as though you were at least putting a in bit of effort in these areas, rather than pissing money away on ‘UCAStv’ and the like. £14+ million isn’t chump change, and with resources of that magnitude, you should be able to fix these problems with ease! Just do it, as one of your adverts said*.