Review of Wonkhe’s 4th year

Saturday 31st January was our fourth birthday, and as is now custom, here is a round-up and review of the last twelve months of Wonkhe. What a year it has been.

The last year has seen Wonkhe grow from my Sunday afternoon hobby, to a fully functional organisation. Wonkhe Ltd. was established in 2014 and is now the company that publishes this site and our associated channels – it employs me and is directed by a fantastic leadership board. As well as all that, it provides consultancy services to clients in and around higher education. Several partnerships such as those with Capita, Minerva, Unite, GuildHE have given us a big boost and joint working has led to numerous opportunities developing for all of us. Birkbeck has given us highly-valued desk space in their External Relations department and the University of Lincoln has helped fund our graduate editor scheme – they are our first University Partnerships, with more to follow soon.

The website has also grown substantially – with a top to bottom rebuild and new site which we launched in November 2014, centred around our nine new blogs. Building on our ‘Jobs for wonks’ tweets, we introduced a new more sophisticated jobs board which has already been popular across the community. We rebranded at the same time and introduced a new logo which builds on the mortar board theme of the last style. A vibrant Editorial Group has come together to help steer our content which we’ve been able to grow and improve in lots of different ways – and have plenty more to do in that area.

Readership

Our readership has grown significantly over the last year, particularly since the launch of the new site which has allowed us to publish more, as well as try lots of different sorts of things that have reached more people in new ways.

However, there can only be one top ten list of recognisable domains at which Wonkhe is visited, and so the rankings (including last year’s position) is as follows:

1. Universities UK (1st – 2014)

2. University of Nottingham  (New)

3. University of Kent (New)

4. University of Birmingham (4th – 2014)

5. Cardiff University (New)

6. Birkbeck, University of London (New)

7. British Academy (New)

8. University of Durham (7th – 2014)

9. Oxford University (New)

10. University of Sheffield (9th – 2014)

Universities UK continues to be at the top spot – which also includes all the other organisation’s based out of their Woburn House headquarters – GuildHE, UCEA etc. It’s also a major conference venue with thousands of people from the sector passing through each month and presumably, checking in on the latest wonkery we have to offer. The University of Nottingham is an understandable new and high-scoring addition as we are now home to their Registrar’s blog, Registrarism. Birmingham stays where it was last time, with Kent a new addition at third place. Birkbeck is another high-scoring new addition to the ranking which makes sense given the site is often administered on their network. The British Academy also hosts the Russell Group and various other centres of HE wonkery, so their inclusion on the list is not surprising – but very welcome.

Some high profile losers this year with BIS (2nd – 2014) and HEFCE (3rd – 2014) being squeezed out of the top ten altogether. They still rank fairly highly but given they house relatively small numbers of (highly dedicated) wonks, can sadly no longer compete with the volumes of traffic from various university networks which catch so much more activity. Also just missing out of the top ten this year but worthy of an honourable mention, are the universities of Bristol, Bath, Warwick as well as Jisc and the National Union of Students.

Content

The 2014 REF was a huge moment for UK higher education and our coverage of that spanned several different articles (including nine new pieces on results day), a live blog of the results day, plus our own sector ranking which factored in research intensity. We were the first publication to make the intensity table and accompanying analysis publicly available, and as a result these pages were viewed more than anything else we’ve ever done. Universities issued press releases which pointed to our tables (if they did well in them), it sparked numerous discussions across the internet and in social media. And we’re not even finished yet: we had some fascinating new analysis comparing REF and NSS results last week, and have more in the pipeline. So I’ve taken the decision to remove the REF from year’s ranking of top articles as they would otherwise make it difficult for anything else to get a look in.

So here are the top five articles that received the most traffic over the last year (not including REF 2014):

1. QAA put on notice – Mark Leach 07/10/2014

2. Postgraduate loans – everything we know – Mark Leach 03/12/2014

3. Understanding the unthinkable post-2015 cuts – Julian Gravatt 08/12/2014

4. UKIP’s latest higher education policies – Mark Leach 26/09/14

5. Social mobility, higher education and the 21st Century – Mary Stuart 02/05/2014

I didn’t feature at all in last year’s top five, but having started work on Wonkhe full-time since, I’ve been able to write a lot more. My articles here are also quick and early looks at developing stories which were updated as and when new information came available or when there was new reaction to add in. But this shows the demand for this form of piece and each represented a big moment – 1. the fallout between QAA and HEFCE as it happened, 2. on the day the Government announced postgraduate loans in the Autumn Statement and 4. on the day that UKIP presented is new higher education platform.

Julian Gravatt’s excellent piece looking at the options that will be in front of the next government if or when it chooses to slash the BIS budget, sparked a wide debate on social media and certainly spooked a lot of people. Mary Stuart’s fantastic piece on social mobility was heavily shared and still pops up all over the place, so I’m really pleased to see this make the top five list.

However, the top five list obscures one important thing – we have had over 70 individual contributors – a number that grows every single week. It is the diversity of voices, perspectives and ideas that truly make Wonkhe a special place and what drives the long-term, consistent engagement with our site and community – not the spikes in traffic that follow moments of great interest and controversy. Rankings, as ever, do not tell the whole story.

Drop me a line if you’d ever like to pitch an article and add your name to the list.

Technology

A lot has changed behind the scenes for us as we launched a new website, although it is still built on the trusty WordPress. However, it is different to the old site in too many ways to mention. We’re also developing new and exciting things for the email list – if you’re not there then I recommend you subscribe (link on the right). Our Twitter following has continued to grow and we’ve dipped our toe in LinkedIN and elsewhere on social media.

Chrome was the most-used browser to access the site last year, but not by much. However in the last year it is has pulled very far ahead leaving Internet Explorer an extremely distant second. I’m glad about this, because the site looks its best on Chrome.

We have plenty more to do the site and tweaks and fixes are ongoing as it all beds in. Please get in touch if you run in to anything broken or not quite right. And look out for some exciting bigger new developments this month and next which I hope you’ll like.

The future

Wonkhe has constantly evolved over the last four years, sometimes in surprising ways, sometimes thanks to careful planning. However, I never imaged I’d be able to make it my full-time job, and the novelty of doing so since September, when I began, hasn’t worn off. Turning something from hobby to profession has been a thrilling process that has led to all kinds of new opportunities for the site and the community that powers it. There are more people that have helped us along the way than I can realistically thank here – but you know who you are and you certainly won’t be forgotten.

Wonkhe is also a a start-up business that is still only in the early stages of delivering our plans and ambitions. With so much more to do, I’m hugely excited by the future and what it will bring. If you thought the last year was big for us…well you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Thanks for sticking with us and I hope you enjoy the next twelve months of Wonkhe.

Mark Leach

Founder, Director and Editor in Chief

mark@wonkhe.com

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