John Smith: Helping universities measure bursary spend

Recently we spoke with Tony Newson, Online Manager at our client the JS Group, one of the UK's biggest service providers in online university bursary management systems. In part 1, Tony shared what the 'Aspire' system enables the students to do and now in part 2 we look at the benefits for universities.


Redwing: So Tony, once the student has their bursary, how does the university know what's being spent?


Tony Newson: We provide each university with its own bespoke tech solution to set up, enable and measure the bursary spend. We also have people here in-house at John Smith whose job it is to do just that. For example, they feedback to the university how many students went onto the website and registered, how many accessed the bursary funds, how much they spent, what they spent it on, where they spent it. If it's an e-book they can say how many people downloaded it and even how many pages they read in the e-book, so it really does go to a granular level of feedback. And that's all shared anonymously back with the university so they can see how their investment is working in the long term. The system also allows us to measure performance and crucially monitor each university's engagement with the solution, so we can make sure that they're getting all they can out of it.


RW: How has this changed the way universities work?


TN: For universities the online nature of things enables them to make important changes. Shops are closing on campuses everywhere because the real estate is expensive and they need the space more for things like classrooms, catering and accommodation, so nearly every university we work with is online-only, so it's a big shift. In Scotland we still have some physical John Smith bookshops, but there's a completely different fee structure up there so the bursary management model isn't needed.


RW: How do you help the universities engage the students to spend on books rather than beer?


TN: The students all sign a GDPR acceptance with the universities so we have their email addresses for sending them regular emails with their balance and the latest offers tailored to their course. Through the bespoke eCommerce system Redwing built we can alert them to the fact that they've bought certain books but haven't bought others, because all of the individual degree courses and course requirements are built into each university's solution. At the same time we can also push certain offers on all kinds of things, in conjunction with the university. We also have their mobile numbers and can SMS students so there's a range of ways we can contact them and tailor the communications.


RW: How does this help the university in terms of their own requirements?


TN: As part of charging £9,250 a year now, each university has to give the Office for Fair Access a plan on how much of that money is going back to the student, and how they're going to achieve that. So each year they submit their plan, and our system is part of that plan because it enables them to say exactly how much they're giving back to their students, and what the money is being spent on.


RW: How do Redwing help you service the universities?


TN: Reliability of service is important and also responsiveness and flexibility and the people we work with at Redwing are very responsive. In our sector we need a quick response because there are certain key windows of time where the websites need to be ready. If you don't get the students engaged and spending their bursaries in the first few weeks of term, especially mid-September to mid-October, that's a key four weeks gone in terms of our annual revenue and also the university's engagement online. So to have a digital agency who's ready, willing and capable of responding to any changes and tweaks at top speed is crucial and that's another area where Redwing excel. I also have one main point of contact to deal with, which helps a lot as there’s a constant understanding.


RW: What are your next steps for developing this?


TN: Next for us is to make the site fully mobile-responsive, ideally in time for next September. The last version of the website gave us two versions: a fixed desktop site and a mobile iteration of that which morphs to whatever screen size the user is on. Now we're going to have one single responsive site which we're in the process of planning with Redwing with a view to going live for autumn 2019. And in terms of more clients and more websites, we can simply add them onto the existing architecture we have.


RW: Finally Tony, what have you stopped doing to talk with us?


TN: A lot of my daily work is liaising between Redwing, our product team, the shops themselves and our engagement partners in-situ at each university whose role there includes maximising the bursary students' engagement with the online shop, making them aware of where it is and how they use it. Part of my role with them is to maintain that interest and understanding so that the universities continue to derive value from the system and the investment. Equally they might then come back to me and ask if the system can do new or different things, and I can advise them or, in some cases, contact Redwing and ask if it's possible, which fortunately it normally is! And then it's about making sure that the promotions and the offers on the front page are right for each uni and I'm responsible for managing a certain number of those too so that they don't have to worry about it. There’s always something to do!

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