Archive for June 30, 2019

What’s the Point of the Prospectus?

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on June 30, 2019 by telescoper

Visitors to last weekend’s Summer Open Day at Maynooth University were all given a `goodie bag’ containing this:

The Undergraduate Handbook (as it’s called) is an example of a Prospectus, which Wikipedia helpfully defines as:

A university or school prospectus is a document sent to potential (prospective) students to attract them to apply for admissions. It usually contains information about the institution and the available courses, including advice on how to apply and the benefits of accepting a place. Many universities have an individual prospectus for each course or group of courses that they offer. Most universities have both online and paper versions of their prospectus, and they are divided into an Undergraduate Prospectus and a Postgraduate Prospectus.

I’ve worked at quite a few Universities in my career: (Sussex, Queen Mary, Nottingham, Cardiff and, now, Maynooth) and they have all produced something similar. The Maynooth one shown above is a fairly hefty document, in A4 format, and over 200 pages in length. It is nicely laid out and well produced so what follows is not to be interpreted as a criticism of it as a piece of literature!

Last week I was thinking about why universities continue to produce prospectuses in paper form when nowadays all the information is available online in a form that is much easier to search than the cumbersome hard copy.
Of the 200+ pages in the Maynooth version, only a few will be of any interest to any one student and we found on our stall last weekend that a much smaller pamphlet outlining just the science courses was far more popular and, one infers, useful for prospective students. The big handbook must be quite expensive to produce and distribute – and a new one is required every year – so is it really worth the effort?

I know from time at Sussex that the annual printing of the prospectus imposed a number of constraints on the process of developing new courses. The deadline for getting things ready was over a year ahead of the time a new course would start, which dramatically slowed down the process. That’s not a particular criticism of Sussex, by the way, I think that’s a fairly ubiquitous issue. Why not just have the material available online, where it can be updated with new courses and modules at any time?

There may be good reasons for continuing with the old-style university prospectus, but the only reason I’ve heard articulated is that `everyone else has one so we have to too’. Maybe the prospectus is an effective marketing tool, I don’t know. If so it’s probably more for the benefit of parents than students.

I’d be interested in hearing views from prospective students, parents thereof, academics and or university
admissions specialists on this issue, especially from those who want to change my mind as I have to say that I think we should scrap the paper and just deliver the material via the internet (either via webpages or an app).

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