Testing New and Innovative Courses Webinar – Key Learnings

Our University Market Insight webinar series kicked off in November with Northumbria University’s Kirsty Jameson and Simon Moll. Joined by our own, Christine Pickup, the pair shared their experiences of the journey Northumbria are on to create a more robust and evidence based new programme development (NPD) process at the institution. Their advice centred around developing a continuous communication and engagement strategy with key stakeholders, both academic and professional staff.

Before you start the NPD process, and in order to make it successful, it is key to understand the course review process at the institution; what are the key stages of the process and who is involved at each stage? Once you have this information it is imperative that you have a plan and ensure that your programme development process aligns with your universities strategic plan and priorities. As our speakers remarked, this plan does not mean that you are bound to a strict path from which you cannot stray, simply that you are prepared and have a rough idea of how to reach your goal. If new opportunities present themselves along the way, your plan will only make it easier to capitalise on them.

It is important to remember that this is a constantly evolving process and with every new programme you look at developing you will learn new lessons that can be applied for the next programme that gets developed. In this way you will be constantly iterating and improving your approach and process as you figure out what works within your institution.

This kind of activity can appear daunting at first so our speaker’s advice was to start small. Start by selecting one new course idea and working with faculty and other key stakeholders to understand the aims of the new programme, why they think it is necessary and who they would be looking to target the new programme at. You can then suggest the right research to conduct to help understand the existing market, estimate the demand for the new programme and develop a marketing and launch strategy for the new course.

This is where continuous communication with your stakeholders is crucial. It is important to involve them with all stages of the research process and with the key decisions that need to be made so that they can make this journey with you and can then advocate for this approach to other colleagues looking to develop new programmes.

Once the recommendations from the research are clear, it is important to ‘check in’ with your stakeholders as the course is being developed, to ensure that they are using the insight when developing the programme content and marketing strategy.

One final piece of advice would be to not be afraid to stop development or to pivot the programme. If the research indicates that there is no demand for a programme in its current form, then it should not be considered a failure to not go ahead with the suggested programme idea at that time. The research may show alternatives for the idea, for example, as a specialist module or pathway within an existing programme. It may also be worth investigating the programme idea again in the future as prospective students, employers and the wider public become more aware of the importance of a subject area. Remember Faculty operate at the cutting edge of what is possible, and it can take some time for the rest of us to catch up!

In summary Northumbria’s key principles for Success are:

  1. Have a plan! – Ensure your programme development process aligns with your universities strategic plan and priorities

  2. Understand your Course Review process – ensure you know how this works at your university, what the key stages are and who is involved at each stage

  3. Continuous communication and engagement with stakeholders – Bring your stakeholders (academics and professional services) on your journey by involving them throughout the process. Remember to check in with them on the parts of the process you don’t lead on to ensure that what is being developed aligns with the research

  4. Effective Research – ensure you are doing the right research at the right time. Being very clear about what you need to get out of the research and what your objectives are will help produce actionable insight.