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The Client

The University of Northampton is one of the newest universities in the UK offering students undergraduate and postgraduate courses and university degrees. The University is a leader in social value, winning multiple awards in this area.

The University required graduation services for four sets of ceremonies from September 2021 until November 2022 totalling, 28 ceremonies in this period for almost 8,000 students and 1,200 academic staff. These ceremonies were spread across three different locations and would require site visits and careful planning and preparation to ensure the event space was utilised appropriately.

Key Issues

Upon being awarded the contract with the University, Graduation Attire first sought to understand particular problems the University may have observed with their previous suppliers and in order for us to make suggestions on how we might be able to improve upon these elements.

Firstly, it was observed by the University that their previous provision offered no electronic ticketing functionality. This meant that processes were not digitised, and they could not benefit from seat allocation software that is offered by other providers, leading to poorer overall organisation of the event and a potential to generate complaints.

Additionally, the University had described that they had been slow to receive management information and commission payments, which made it difficult for the Graduation Team at the University to have transparency and auditability of the event, or track feedback in any effective way to make improvements where necessary.

Moreover, the outgoing incumbent supplier had little process compliance for the manufacture of new officer’s robes, and no commitment to produce new stock where it might have been required, which has the potential of requiring use of tired or lacklustre garments with no option to replace them.

Finally, in terms of the events themselves, they noted unusually long queue times leading to frustrated students, family members and staff on what should be a significant milestone for those attending, and an advertisement to the prestige of the University. Presentation of garments was also observed to be poor, with gowns rolled into balls and displayed in this manner, which tend to lead to creased garments that are not in keeping with the prestige of the occasion.

Proposed Solutions

It was clear from the University’s specification that there were a number of components to their requirement for Graduation Services. These were specifically around providing:

1) A secure booking system via web-portal, branded to the University, differentiated for staff and students with administrative capabilities.
2) Provision of graduation gowns for staff and students and at event robing service providing excellent customer service.
3) Great quality studio photography hosted at the graduation events.
4) Live-streaming services for the graduation days.
5) Availability of Graduation Memorabilia to provide students a keepsake of the occasion.

With regard to the secure online web-portal and booking system, this was to be provided to both students booking their graduation details such as gowns, photography, and memorabilia as well as tickets to attend the event itself. This would be required to be branded to the university and kept up to date. In addition to this, the system needed to be capable of collecting payment as well as confirming the services booked. The system also needed to include enhanced functionality that allowed for:

1) Requesting refunds tailored to the universities own policies (e.g. timescales).
2) Administration dashboard for university staff to be able to export reporting information on bookings and tickets and see a seating plan for each event.
3) An easy-to-use interface for both administrators and students that was well designed and intuitive.

University specific actions were carried out, in order to overcome some of their key issues. This included some prior planning for things such as digital seating plans that demonstrated different layouts for different venues and even include areas for reserved seating for VIPs in specific areas and accessible seats.

This was paired with development of customised graduation tickets with bespoke information that the customer wished including on the ticket.

We also ensured that functionality within the booking system was to limit capacity in order to prevent ceremonies from being oversubscribed through high demand.

We introduced a personalised questionnaire onto the booking system at the request of the university to gather additional mandatory information from graduates.

Some of the standard functionality was also to be included, including a pre-populated database adding convenience for students and staff bookings and allocation of specific free gown hire as designated by the university.

The plan was to audit the universities current stock of gowns to ascertain what numbers were needed to be manufactured, but also to work with the university on a slight redesign. Also required was for us to provide academic dress from a range of universities for academic staff, VIPs, and honorary graduates.

Results

Graduation Attire’s actions resulted in successfully delivered graduation services from the university. Gowning was updated and refreshed, and a full suite of officer’s robes was provided to the University free of charge which included six gowns in total for the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellors, the Registrar and Chair of the board.

In total, over 3,500 garments were created to meet requirements of the larger ceremonies in September, which was larger than usual due to COVID postponements. Gowns were well presented and delivered on hanging rails for maximum quality and preservation.

All of the above was supported by a dedicated account manager in planning ceremonies, responding to any and all queries promptly as well as attending mandatory site visits to venues well in advance to produce room layout diagrams. This was supported through other avenues of contacting the team, either within office hours or direct mobile number of the account manager as well as e-mail contact details and Livechat through our website, offered to staff and students.

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