Student and Registry Services


Fixing Portico: The Academic Model Project – What will it mean for you?

1 July 2018

Transforming module registration, introducing a consistent credit framework, and establishing a robust foundation for future developments.

Academic Model Project
From August 2018 UCL will be launching a new module structure along with a consistent credit framework as part of a programme of improvements for fixing Portico.

A concerted effort by staff across UCL over the last ten months has delivered urgent improvements to Portico, the student information system which drives all aspects of the student lifecycle from application to graduation.

Curriculum data is now accurately and precisely defined in Portico, dramatically improving the efficiency of processes that support the delivery of education to UCL’s 40,000-plus students.

Derfel Owen, Director of Academic Services, said:

We would like to thank everyone who has participated in the data collection activities that have been taking place throughout this academic session to gather up-to-date information on the programmes, modules and assessments that will be active in 2018/19. This information is fundamental to the delivery of key process improvements and your support while dealing with competing demands on your time has been greatly appreciated.

Benefits of the new module structure

The current phase of the Academic Model Project has focussed on the implementation of a new module structure that has removed the need for the duplication of modules in Portico. This has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of in-use module codes, from approximately 14,600 to 8,600. It has also greatly simplified the process for calculating the number of students on a module. 

The collection of information about when modules take place means that students will be able to take teaching periods into consideration when choosing their modules, making it easier to get a balanced selection of modules across the academic year. It will also be more straightforward to manage students’ registration on modules when they return from mid-year interruptions. 

The implementation of the new module structure will also enable UCL to respond to a high priority request from both staff and students to develop a single, UCL-wide, module catalogue.

In addition to the new module structure, undergraduate programmes will be moving from course units to FHEQ credits.  This change will introduce a consistent credit framework across the institution and will align UCL with the majority of UK universities.

Enhanced programme diets

Information provided via this year’s programme summaries exercise has been used for the construction of programme diets for 2018/19 which means that optional and elective groups have been more accurately defined to assist students with the selection of appropriate choices.  Pre-/co-requisites have also been included in diets, where appropriate, to prevent students from selecting unsuitable modules.

To facilitate the testing and review of newly constructed diets, the Academic Review process has been modified so that staff can review diets as if they were a student, submit online requests to the Academic Model Team for additions/deletions to module groups as well as make direct amendments to the diet help text. Drop-in sessions are being provided to support staff with the completion of this activity.

Improved Module Registration

All this work will greatly improve the module registration experience for students, providing a structured approach to the selection of the correct version of suitable modules, so that more students will get the module registration process right first time, reducing the number of module rejections, and freeing up staff to support student choice rather than the process.

Students will now be able to access module registration directly from the Portico landing page.  To optimise the user experience for students, optional and elective module lists will be pre-generated to improve the response time for displaying this information.

A new process for approving alternative assessment patterns for affiliate students, where these have not been created in advance, will be implemented as part of the teaching department approval process associated with module registration.  Further details about this process will be provided in due course.

Enhancements to fee calculations

Enhancements to fee calculations at the start of the 2018/19 academic session will ensure students are invoiced for the appropriate fees without the need for manual intervention by staff.  The new processes will operate in the background, automating fee exceptions for specific modes of attendance as well as the identification of modules for exclusion from fee calculations for students studying in a modular/flexible capacity.  

Business continuity

Over the next few weeks the Academic Model Project will be finalising updates to Portico functionality and reports so that the new module data and credit values can be introduced.  There are a number of UCL systems that use Portico module data, such as Moodle, Lecturecast and the Online Timetable, and the project team are working closely with the service owners of these systems to ensure that you will be able to conduct your normal business processes when the data changes come into effect.  Thank you to all staff who have been supporting the testing of updated functionality and reports to ensure processes will continue to operate as required.

Promotion of common terminology and definitions

To facilitate better communication and understanding across UCL, we are promoting the use of a common set of terminology across all systems that use Portico data. These terms and definitions have been approved by UCL Education Committee. Some examples include:

  • Module: Self-contained, credit-rated blocks of learning and teaching which make up a taught Programme of Study.

  • Programme of Study: An approved, coherent path of study with specified learning outcomes leading to a specified qualification in a specified field of study.

The full list can be found on the Academic Model Project wiki.

Support for staff and students

To support staff and students during the early transition period, we will be providing you with the means to translate old to new module codes in Portico. We are also developing a suite of reports for staff to facilitate the creation and extraction of module delivery data using various criteria such as department, FHEQ level, teaching period and programme level.

We will be working closely with staff from the UCL and Portico service desks as well as colleagues across Student and Registry Services to address any queries you or your students may have as quickly as possible.

Transition Period

New module codes will come into effect on 1st August 2018.

Current module codes will continue to be used for the following activities that will take place after 1st August 2018:

  • UCL Summer School (July - August 2018)
  • Late Summer Assessments (August - September 2018)
  • Postgraduate Exam Boards (September - November 2018)
  • Resits without further attendance from 2017/18

Additional developments to Portico and associated processes

In addition to the improvements being implemented by the Academic Model Project, other teams within Student and Registry Services have also been improving their services. Functionality in Portico to facilitate staff access to information on students’ adjustments for study were introduced earlier in the year and the process for managing the progression of students at the end of the academic cycle has been updated to incorporate a second progression point for students with late summer assessments. The earlier release of results and a more efficient process for the production and posting of certificates to students are also being introduced this summer.

The delivery of more training and drop-in sessions to assist departmental and faculty staff with a wider range of core activities is being planned by Academic Services to provide more effective support for staff when engaging with and completing essential tasks.

Future plans for Portico

Wendy Appleby, UCL Registrar and Head of Student and Registry Services, said:Our ambition is to make Portico the single source of truth for UCL student data. These improvements form the first step in a programme of service enhancements we aim to deliver over the next few years. We will consult with key stakeholders from the initial review and design stage through to testing and sign-off, to continue to ensure that future developments deliver positive improvements to our community of staff and student users. Further improvements to key processes will be made possible by reflecting UCL’s academic regulations, curriculum structure and credit framework in Portico, as well as making the best use of the system functionality available.

The delivery of further process efficiencies for staff and a better user experience for students is the core aim of every stage of the Academic Model Project and we look forward to working with you on our continued journey to improve Portico, the digital spine of UCL.

Additional Resources

We encourage discussing these changes with your colleagues, and have prepared a short PowerPoint slide deck.