March 2021 - In 2020, the Heriot-Watt University Dubai Student Council chose to launch their brand new digital presence with Membership Solutions Ltd (MSL), the largest provider of digital student engagement solutions in the UK, Australia and Ireland.
With its headquarters at the University of Warwick, UK, MSL has a proud heritage in the higher education sector with over 120 university clients including world-renowned institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, King’s College London, St Andrews, London School of Economics, Australian National University, Melbourne, Adelaide and University College Dublin. Heriot-Watt University Dubai is a welcome addition to that list of respected institutions.
The new website and our digital resources puts us at the forefront of student engagement across the UAE and reinforces the importance of ensuring students have a positive student experience alongside the studies. - Soehl Abraham, Student President, Heriot-Watt University Dubai Student Council
- 8 weeks from project initiation to website launch
- 1,500 students voted in the Student Council executive elections for Sports, Wellbeing and Events
- 4,300 website users since the launch in September to date
The Heriot-Watt Dubai team has worked closely with MSL to launch a brand new website and digital engagement hub including an app in just 8 weeks. The Student Council’s President and the marketing intern have shown off their digital skills to manage this feat, creating engaging content to attract and inform students. The ‘soft launch’ of the website in October 2020 has paved the way for what will be one of the biggest and most important events to date in the Council’s calendar – the first presidential election to be run by the Student Council to select the new full time President in March 2021.
Creating the best experience for Heriot-Watt University Dubai students
The Student Council had been planning for a number of years to create its own unique digital presence and whilst its Facebook and Instagram pages were very popular amongst students they didn’t convey how unique the Council is and what it does for its students on a daily basis.
The Covid pandemic brought that digital planning forward with some urgency; the Council needed to provide an easy to find, simple to use and engaging ‘one-stop-shop’ for everything the Council does to support students. But the Council had some hurdles to overcome as many students were unaware they even had a Council with its own completely separate identity to the University. With this in mind, the Council staff looked at what Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, Scotland, had achieved by working with MSL to help them promote student services, do more digitally and offer the best possible online experience.
MSL is a well known and trusted supplier in the higher education sector with its roots in Warwick University, one of the Russell Group’s world class universities. The Student Council decided to take advantage of this high level of expertise to benefit its students.
We knew that MSL would offer us more than just web design and so they were the obvious choice as the preferred partner to so many prestigious universities around the world. We knew MSL could move quickly and understand the unique requirements of our Heriot-Watt Dubai students. - David Steers, Sports Development Manager, Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
Gaining the support of the University
An option that had been considered by the Student Council for its digital presence was a ‘node’ site from the Heriot-Watt Edinburgh website. However, with data privacy of paramount importance, it was decided that an entirely new site would be best for Dubai students.
The University is highly supportive of any initiative that drives student retention, having its own sabbatical post usually held for one year by a recent graduate which is dedicated to retention and student life. So a new digital presence for the Student Council was considered an extension of that work and the University chose to contribute funding to the project. However, the majority of funds came directly from the Student Council, a fact which the team is rightly proud of as it reinforces that the website and the app, StudentLink, plus all the services accessed through them are by students and for students.
The new campus where Student Council will be based offers lots of opportunities for even more student engagement activities. We’ll have a dedicated space which is going to be great for when students return. In advance of that, the website and app will be ‘ramped up’ with lots of new content and more things for everyone to do online. We’ll drive more people to our digital content so they can see all the amazing experiences they can have with their Student Council. - Nikki Mitchell, Student Engagement Officer, Heriot-Watt University Dubai
Developing student leadership skills
A benefit of working with MSL has been the access the Student Council has gained to a wide range of digital engagement solutions. This includes MSL’s Volunteering & Employability system which supports this most popular form of activity for Heriot-Watt Dubai students. Many students take part in volunteering for Council activities, such as running their own clubs and societies or managing the hugely successful events held on campus, and there are currently 90 registered volunteers taking advantage of the opportunities on offer.
Volunteering is the most popular form of participation for Heriot-Watt Dubai students and the Student Council wants to offer more opportunities to get involved. We already encourage students to start and run their own clubs and societies and the website is great for getting students to think about the groups they’d like to join or start themselves. The new website and app mean our student leaders can now easily promote their club or society and new members get a lot more choice of how to spend their time outside of studying. - David Steers, Sports Development Manager.
With MSL’s Volunteering & Employability in place, the Council is keen to find external partners who can provide more opportunities for their enthusiastic and entrepreneurial students. The focus will be on their careers after university and helping them to acquire more leadership and management skills which complement their academic courses. To support this, the online system lets students log all their volunteering hours in their own profile area which are reflected in an award when they graduate.
Celebrating the University’s bicentennial year
2021 is the 200th year anniversary of Heriot-Watt University and the Student Council is celebrating this milestone with its own events and activities that reflect the University’s Flourishing Communities initiative.
The initiative has four strands which the Council has used as themes for its flagship programme of events - Belong, Inspire, Collaborate and, to kick start 2021, Celebrate. Most events in the programme have been online but with the website in place to promote these activities, all have been very popular and well attended. An upcoming bicentennial event is the 200 second challenge which will celebrate students ideas and initiatives that are in line with the University’s values during Expo 2020 which runs until April 2021.
Student leaders have also shown their initiative by running lots of fun, entertaining and unique social events online including the inaugural live streamed Freshers Got Talent which saw singers, dancers, musicians, actors and artists show off the amazing talents to be found in Dubai.
A global outlook from a leading University
Heriot-Watt University has a prestigious presence in the UK, Malaysia, and of course in Dubai. Inspired from the “Building our Commonality” programme, collaboration between Heriot-Watt’s five campuses in the UK, Dubai and Malaysia is key, which has been further accelerated due to the current pandemic. Student inductions have all been online and the Student Council has played a vital role in creating a sense of community.
The Council’s new digital engagement tools have supported the University’s drive to align all three campuses by working on commonality, best practice and learning – plans which will form the Student Partnership Agreement. Any student should be able to move between campuses and have the same experiences – including their course running to the same timetable so that they can experience life and enrich their studies in a different country through a campus transfer for a semester.
An exciting future for Heriot-Watt University Dubai Student Council
As the Student Council prepares to move to its sprawling new campus at Dubai Knowledge Park, planning has started to re-launch the website with a campaign which will make use of the digital displays in the most modern of buildings as well as in-person promotions to drive students to their website.
The new era of digital student engagement and participation is heralded by the biggest Student Voice event in the Council’s calendar, the President Elections. This will be a fully online experience from nominations to voting and for candidates, staff administrators and student voters to take part.
We are very proud and excited to share our work with MSL and to show how the very first dedicated Student Council website in UAE will help Heriot-Watt University Dubai students achieve their ambitions and do their best here and globally. - Nikki Mitchell, Student Engagement Officer