Your 5-step blueprint for data-driven design of new programmes


Your 5-steps blueprint for designing new data-driven degree programmes

A data-driven framework that will boost your new international programme strategy


A university can feel the need to launch new international degree programmes because of many reasons. Considering that worldwide, the demand for higher education is expected to grow exponentially from 100 million students currently to 250+ million by 2025, it is understandable that universities would want to expand their reach via new programmes.

Whether your university wants to expand into a specific subject or has sensed a particular need in the market for a programme, it’s best to grasp the full picture when creating new degree opportunities. That’s because launching a new international programme implies investments: not only financial, but staff-wise, having people involved in developing the syllabus etc. As with any big investment, there’s a certain amount of risk involved. You can minimise risks, for example, both the chance and the cost of failure, by using data to inform your decision-making process. That is why we have created the 5 steps blueprint for data-driven new programme strategy.

This step-by-step process will help you understand the context of launching a new international degree programme better.

Why should you add data to your decision-making process?

Using big data as support for decision-making in organisations has become the norm in the 21st century. By integrating big data analytics into the overall thought process, universities can act from a more informed position. Data should be used as a catalyst, increasing decision-making speed and sophistication. As Dan DiFilippo, Global and U.S. Data & Analytics Leader, PwC puts it,  “If you’re making decisions, trusting data shouldn’t be holding you back. What you should be thinking about is how to frame the problem, how you can take advantage of the available data that’s out there, and what the strengths and weaknesses are of the approaches to use the data.” It all depends on how you use your available data. In this case, we want to provide you, via this framework, the types of data that you can use in each part of your strategy process.

The 5 steps blueprint for a data-driven new programme strategy – explained

This data-driven analysis can be broken down into a 5 steps blueprint that will guide your research efforts towards concrete outcomes. Ultimately, these outcomes should contribute to the likelihood of your strategy’s success. These 5 steps for building a data-driven new programme strategy are:

  1. Understanding your goal – what are you trying to achieve with the new programme?
  2. Exploring options – what direction should you take regarding the new programme?
  3. Estimating demand – what is the supply-demand relation in the case of the new programme?
  4. Choosing the right place – where and how should you implement the new programme?
  5. Recruiting students – how are you going to reach the students that would be interested in this new programme?

1. Understanding your goal

Step 1 for the 5-steps blueprint for designing new data-driven degree programmes

In this phase of the research process, it’s essential to establish the direction that you want to achieve with this new international programme. Defining the why behind starting something like this will clarify the context in which this decision takes place. It also anchors your future actions in a bigger purpose. Your ultimate goal for this new programme can cover a variety of areas, such as financial sustainability, university reputation and ranking, responding to market changes or creating the space for social impact. For example, the University of Gävle from Sweden just launched their first international online Master’s programme in Geo-Health, emphasizing their academic expertise and underlining the university reputation.

The data that can help your decision-making process in this stage, can be found in the following areas: university and programme rankings, university finances, market skills-sensing and in governmental policies. Depending on your set goal, each of these datasets will help you understand what is happening out in the market. That, in turn, will help you better grasp and consolidate whatever goal you choose for your new programme.

Knowing why you want to create something new acts as the most important choice filter, especially at the beginning of your research process.

2. Exploring options

Step 2 for the 5 steps blueprint for a data-driven new programme strategy

At this stage of the decision-making process, you should begin to focus on shaping the new programme. Thinking of options brings the abstract idea on to a more tangible level. By reviewing your current programme portfolio, you will have a solid base to start from. What do you currently offer and where do you have space to add a new programme? What discipline do you have in mind for the programme? Should it be an undergraduate or a postgraduate degree and with which programmes would it compete, both within your university and outside?

Checking out past and current market trends helps to understand the status-quo of the market. Other data points that you can collect at this stage are (inter)national enrolment data, demographics or even internal feedback.

One very helpful piece of data that can give you more concrete answers is real-time student interest data. This will give you insights into the current demand from students, intending to start a degree within 6 to 24 months. It allows you to compare the options that you have: What the supply-demand relation is for Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, online programmes versus on-campus ones, business versus medicine, and much more. For example, via the data we have available at Studyportals, we noticed that there is a substantial demand for engineering and technology-related programmes. This information, in combination with the available enrolment data, demographics, and more can make the difference between the launch of a new degree being a success or a failure.

3. Estimating demand

Step 3 for the Step 2 for the 5 steps blueprint for a data-driven new programme strategy

When thinking about launching new international programmes, people tend to be interested in what is new and trending. Take Artificial Intelligence for example. AI programmes are nowadays starting to appear more and more at universities worldwide. Let’s say that your institution also wants to include it in your programme offer. But is there a real demand for it on your campus? Or would you start the programme just because you perceive, or even just feel, that it is trending? Understanding the supply-demand relation that is specific to your country and university will act as a filter for your new programme decision. Even though it might be tempting to follow hot trends because it seems that the ROI would be high and immediate, it’s better to understand what the actual demand for this new programme is. That gives you a solid base to create your new programme strategy.

For example, Glasgow Caledonian University has reassessed all International marketing activities based on use of the Studyportals data and dashboards. As a result, their marketing activities have been refocused to ensure that marketing budget is spent in the regions where there are more opportunities. Previously, this analysis was based on historical internal data. However, the focus on previous intakes does not necessarily represent the real-time situation. It also did not allow for identification of previous untapped markets where opportunity would lie. By utilising the Studyportals real-time data alongside internal research, GCU is now more agile in responding to market developments, and can more accurately assess opportunities for growth.

In this phase, you should start building a business case and ask yourself specific questions such as who is your institution competing with or how much should the tuition fee be for this new programme, what number of students to expect on the first intake, what would be the costs involved and therefore the ROI on the programme etc. This then takes you to step 4.

4. Choosing the right place

Step 4 for the 5 steps blueprint for a data-driven new programme strategy

As we go further down the process, your idea of a new programme becomes more concrete. After pinning your goals, brainstorming for options and pairing all these details with a thorough market analysis, it’s time to map out more specific details. One of the biggest deciding factors is the place where the new programme will take place, impacting your programme creation strategy and implementation. Will you run the programme on your home campus, in-country through a partner university, on your own branch campus or will you offer it online? And if you choose in-country, what language will you opt for?

The data that will help you clarify some of these points lies in demographics, government policies, visa and country-specific information, the perception of online services etc. Again, one of the most important data sources can be found in real-time student data. Via this data, you can, for example, understand the trends in student mobility for a certain place or campus. In case you would want to start a new programme in a country with very strict visa policies, but you would need a big number of enrolled students for it, maybe creating an on-campus programme might not be the best. In this case, opting for an online programme would suit your goals and means in a more effective manner.

As Samuel Harris famously put it, it’s all about location, location, location. Thinking about the value that a specific location (which can be online or blended) can offer to your programme will impact the success of your newly created programme.

5. Recruiting students

Step 5 for the 5 steps blueprint for a data-driven new programme strategy

The last step in the decision-making process directly channels students. The way you recruit students plays a part in designing your strategy since the success of the new programme highly depends on how accessible the programme is to the right students. Start thinking about what markets fit the programme the best. Also, what channels can drive the most efficient and effective ROI? What kind of partners can you leverage on to bring in the most suitable student cohort? What kind of attraction strategy should you have in mind, that fits the agenda of the new programme?

Your research regarding students should touch on demographics, paired up with real-time student data on cities of origin for example. As an illustration, students from Chennai are twice as interested in engineering and technology as students from New Delhi, who have a stronger interest in business and management programmes. At the same time, you should look at the different stakeholders that you can involve in your recruitment process, in scholarships, channel ROI data, visa and country-specific information etc. All of this information should lead you to understand who your target audience should be, where you can find these students and how you can best communicate with them.  

Developing new international degree programmes is part of the innovation that higher education institutions provide to the world. However, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, innovations also carries risks. Just how risky an innovation proves to be dependent on the choices you and your team make in planning and implementing it. With the help of this 5 steps blueprint and together with the available data, you should be ready to map out a rigorous and practical new international programme strategy, which will help your university with its planned goals.


Want to get more in-depth insight on how you can optimise your new programme planning and design? Our team is here to assist you with your needs! Email us at to find out more.

Check out the “Five steps for a data-driven new programme strategy” infographic!

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