'Rate your course' idea catches on for students
Most third-level students might be inclined to have a good grumble or even drop out if they discovered the college course they had enrolled in was not as described. Georgie Smithwick went one better, however, when she founded Coursehub.ie, a student-led review site.
Smithwick left the college where she was studying and transferred to take business and French at Trinity College Dublin. Her experience helped her to identify a gap in the market for a student-led course review site.
“I ended up switching courses and transferring to TCD. I realised a student who had done the course would have been able to tell me the ins and outs of it better than a prospectus, so went about setting up an online review site,” she says.
To get financial backing for the venture she identified Terry Clune, the chief executive of the Taxback Group, for investment support. She knew he was a TCD alumnus, and that he had had a similar experience to her at college and had switched courses.
“I knew I wanted Terry Clune on board as he was very clued into the education sector, being involved in bringing international students to Ireland. He is a good businessman too and a previous winner of the Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year,” she says.
Smithwick found out about a networking event in Kilkenny that Clune was due to attend, and requested that the organisers seat her not only on the same table as him, but next to him. Her pitch that evening was a success, as the two went into business together, with Clune investing in the site.
Smithwick spent 10 months building the website, and collecting course and college reviews and critiques from thousands of students throughout the country.
“I contacted all the student unions at universities and colleges throughout the country and told them about my idea. They liked it as they found a lot of students were coming to them unhappy with their course choice. The student union in each college sent out a survey for me to the entire student body,” she says.
“They were quite lengthy surveys asking students all about their courses, so I was surprised we got so many responses and reviews back. More than 12,000 people filled them out, including 2,500 from TCD alone.”
The site went live in August 2011 featuring the 12,000 course and college reviews, on the same day that 71,000 students in Ireland were awaiting the first round of offers from the Central Applications Office.
Less than three months later, course hub.iewon the Best Education Website at the Eircom Spider Awards and Best Student Website at the Irish web awards.
Current students and graduates can anonymously review their course and rank the accuracy and helpfulness of each other’s comments.
Prospective students can read reviews or ratings on any course they may be interested in, she explains.
“We have a very strict moderation system in place. Every comment is vetted. Students have to have a college email address in order to leave a review. It’s also very easy to spot a review written by a marketing department or lecturer.”
The site leverages the experiences and inside knowledge of third-level students to provide course reviews that go beyond the gloss and bias of prospectuses, Smithwick says. It currently has more than 15,000 reviews.
“It has a huge amount of fith- and sixth-year secondary school students logging on. Schools are always contacting me too, to do presentations about it.”
In addition to reading reviews, prospective students can compare preferred colleges and courses side by side; evaluating common factors such as CAO points and class size, as well as information on student satisfaction, ratings of facilities, academic rigour and assessment styles.
A survey last year by the ESRI found that 15 per cent of new entrants into third- level courses in Ireland did not continue the course the following year and up to 80 per cent of final year secondary school students said they would like to have more information before making a decision about college and career choices.
Smithwick hopes to roll out the site to other countries, beginning with Australia next August.