Analysis of university websites: Foreign prospective students find a lot of information
On behalf of the CHE Centre for Higher Education Development, CHE Consult has analysed the websites of universities. For this purpose, personas were developed for five ideal-typical prospective students who were interested in studying business administration. With reference to the personas, a questionnaire consisting of 69 individual questions was created, with which a sample of 32 university websites could be tested. The publication "Hochschulwebsites für heterogene Zielgruppen – Mit Personas Websites strategisch gestalten" contains eight central recommendations for action in addition to the analysis.
The German universities respond to the individual information needs of prospective students to varying degrees on their websites. Foreign applicants are informed quite comprehensively. Persons without a school leaving certificate, on the other hand, find answers to relevant questions on the websites of the universities to a much lesser extent. This is shown by an analysis of the CHE Centre for Higher Education Development.
In view of the variety of currently more than 20,000 courses of study on offer at around 400 German universities, orientation for prospective students is more important than ever. In addition to comparative overviews such as rankings or the Higher Education Compass, the websites of the universities have a central orientation function.
A CHE analysis now shows that German universities largely satisfy the information needs of foreign applicants. On average, a typical applicant from abroad receives answers to three quarters of relevant questions on the university websites. The situation is considerably worse for potential applicants without a high school diploma.
For the analysis, the CHE created five fictitious applicant profiles as representatives of typical target groups and developed a specific questionnaire for each. A random sample was used to determine which of these questions could be answered by research on the websites of selected universities. Different types and sizes of universities were considered in the sample.
Regarding the constructed types of applicants, it is remarkable that state universities tend to focus more on the special situation of students with children, from abroad or persons with a strong interest in research. Students without a high school diploma or with a more pragmatic and everyday-oriented view of their studies will find less relevant information on the net.
Private universities, according to the results of the sample, offer less concrete information on the net. The authors see a possible explanation for this finding in the fact that private universities pursue the strategy of quickly entering a direct dialogue with potential students and therefore do not attempt to answer as many questions as possible about information provided on the net.
"It is a positive sign that at some universities the diversity on campus is also reflected in the specifically prepared information offered on the website", co-author Ulrich Müller evaluates the results. "After all, what good is the best course of study if potential applicants do not feel they have been picked up and their questions are not taken up," says the head of political analysis at CHE.
The authors see potential for improvement in the structure of the websites. In many cases, the structure of the university, for example in faculties or departments, also dominates the structure of the website. However, this logic is not immediately comprehensible to prospective students and makes it more difficult to find relevant information or may lead to redundancies and contradictions.
One of the eight central recommendations of the analysis is therefore the advice to organise university websites according to the specific needs of target groups. The use of fictitious profiles, so-called personas, as used in the CHE analysis, can provide valuable assistance here.
"The diversity among students will continue to increase," predicts CHE expert Ulrich Müller. "Especially university locations away from the metropolises, which have to fight harder for students, can score points with well-prepared information offers on the net for specific target groups", says Müller.