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CASE STUDY: Heriot-Watt Student Union increases participation at Freshers Fair

Heriot-Watt Student Union logo

October 2019 - Heriot-Watt Student Union has a presence on two campuses in Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders, where it supports c.14,000 members with representation, access to societies, advice services, events, volunteering opportunities, campaigning, bars and cafes.

With a large number of students living on each campus, the Student Union focuses its activities on building communities and providing opportunities to join in and make new friends. Which is why the 65 societies it currently promotes are so important and Freshers Fair is a key date in the Student Union calendar.

For the 2019-20 academic year, the Student Union chose to run Freshers Fair completely within their MSL System, digitising the joining process and providing a seamless experience for societies and new members.

Heriot-Watt Student Union Freshers Fair 2019 stats:

  • 58 societies attended the Fair
  • 664 members joined societies at the Fair
  • 3000 new memberships generated at the Fair and through the Freshers web pages

Breaking down barriers to participation

Historically, societies at Heriot-Watt Student Union are autonomous organisations running their own finances, communications and membership promotions. The downside is that manual processes and multiple systems have always been needed just to manage the member joining process. Freshers Fair required each society to have a unique online survey to collect new and prospective member contact details; the Student Union then provided the societies with a password protected spreadsheet of their member details taken from each survey which had to be uploaded to corresponding groups in the MSL System. Jamie Nutter, Deputy CEO at Heriot-Watt Student Union, explains:

“Freshers Fair was always a very manual affair requiring lots of set up and admin steps. Add to that the heavy use of Facebook for societies running their activities and that left the SU with very little data on those activities and participation levels. Following GDPR, we realised we had to formalise how member data was collected, distributed and used by our societies and, at the same time, take the opportunity to streamline the entire joining process.”

Exploiting existing digital resources

As an extensive user of the MSL System, Heriot-Watt Student Union has digitised many of its key student services including elections, volunteering and representation. Society committees already have access to some areas of the MSL System including their own pages on the Student Union website, access to their member data and use of the integral messaging facility. So, as planning for Freshers Week started in the summer of 2019, the logical step was to utilise the MSL Freshers Fair features to further digitise the admin around member data, sign-up/interest lists and purchasing.

“Community is an important objective for the SU but the feeling amongst our societies has been that they are individual organisations and not part of a group striving to achieve the same things. Finding a way to give Freshers Fair a community feel by making it easy and enjoyable for societies to join was as important to the SU as simplifying the organising and running of the Fair for our staff.”

Their best ever Freshers Fair?

September 2019 saw Heriot-Watt Student Union run their first fully digital Freshers Fair with 58 societies in attendance covering interests from A Capella, Brewing and Drama to Robotics, Gaming and Yoga. Societies were issued with a unique barcode and students provided with a ‘shopping list’ to which they attached a barcode for every society they wanted to join and those they were interested in.

As students left, they took their shopping list to a till point where their student ID was verified on the MSL System, their membership fees calculated and payment taken by the Student Union. As the Union covers the cost of processing the PayPal payments, this means societies get the full membership fees to plough back into their activities.

“This year’s Freshers Fair was by far the most professional the SU has run in recent years – our societies came together as a group with a common aim and our students benefited from a connected joining process all managed through the MSL System.”

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