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Revealed: Quarter of a Million Price Tag For KCL’s Low-Uptake App

KCL FOI form
Image courtesy of King's Information Compliance team

A Roar News investigation has revealed that the ‘King’s Student’ app, launched in September 2022, cost the university £279,412 to establish and run in its first year.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Roar has revealed that an initial contract of £107,782 was awarded to mobile app developer Tribal for “implementation fees, support and other relevant expenses” of the new King’s Student app.

A further £171,630 was then spent by KCL on “staff salary and the annual cost of running Tribal Edge”, the app’s software, between September 2022 and July 2023. The total is equivalent to more than 30 domestic students’ fees for 2022/23. The overall cost per student was around £8.47.

King’s Student averaged just under 2,000 users per day over the entirety of the first academic year, out of KCL’s approximately 33,000 registered students. The app’s use also steadily declined throughout the year, as is clear from the charts presented below.

Any further evaluation produced by Roar is based upon estimations due to the nature of the evidence which KCL provided. Roar originally filed its FOI request with the KCL Information Compliance Service on June 28. On July 26, the Information Compliance Office responded to Roar to ask for clarification on if data displayed in charts would be acceptable, or if this should be excluded. No alternative method of presentation was offered. Roar responded in the affirmative on the next day. KCL’s final response was received by Roar on August 23.

Roar’s request for “average daily active users… broken down by month” was not fulfilled, with the clarification that “Stats are limited to what Tribal can provide”. A breakdown comparing days of the week and hours of the day was instead provided. The request for “A breakdown of monthly average users since the app’s launch” was similarly responded to with a line graph of daily users, with the same justification. In the interest of transparency, all three graphs provided by KCL Compliance are displayed below.

Therefore, further evaluation of the King’s app is partly by estimation. A full break-down of Roar’s workings can be found here.

King’s Student was downloaded approximately 19,600 times between September 2022 and July 2023, although this is confused by the Android download number being given as “1,000+”. This suggests that at least two-thirds of students last year did, at some point, download the app.

The app was used for approximately 1.14 million ‘sessions’, meaning that the average app downloader used the service around 58 times. KCL therefore paid 24.5p per app session (time that the app is opened and used), with that cost between KCL staff and Tribal Group.

During term-time last year, Roar estimates that around 2,500 users were active on an average day, 7.6% of the 33,000-strong student body. However, there was a significant drop-off in users over time. In the autumn semester, when KCL were heavily promoting the service, daily active users were at almost 3,000 (9.1%). In the spring semester, this dropped to around 2,000 (6.1%), with a clear tailing-off apparent in the daily user graph provided.

The app was developed in consultation with students over the summer of 2022, using focus groups, surveys and pilots. The university have suggested that their feedback was a score of 4.3/5. On the App Store, King’s Student has a 4.0/5.0 rating (20 reviews), significantly better than the 2.7/5.0 rating (43 reviews) for Welcome to King’s, a previous application launched by KCL.

The absence of more detailed data makes it difficult to further investigate the trends in app usership. The app is run by Tribal Group, the “number one provider of student information systems to universities in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK”. In 2022, the company reported over £83 million in revenue. Roar used the ‘Contact Us’ page of Tribal Group’s website on September 10, but received no reply. After a member of the Roar editorial team emailed with a notice of upcoming publication and request for comment on October 13, Tribal did then reply with several clarifications and details which have been included in this article.

The app cost in 2022/23 is expected to be lower considering that the initial capital expenditure has been paid. In response to the Roar request for comment, Tribal Group clarified that 12,802 new users had joined the app in September 2023, bringing the total to 34,520. They also reported that activity on the app had reached its highest ever point in that month, with just under 6,000 daily users (although no comparable data from last year exists as the app was launched on 26 September 2022). This would however suggest that only 17% of those registered on the app used it on any given day during September 2023. If usership follows the same trend as last year, this share is expected to fall significantly throughout the academic year.

Metrics within the app also suggest limited engagement. At the time of writing, the ‘Exams & Timetables’ page only has 204 followers, while the ‘Records & Documents’ page has 132 – both pages that one would expect to be relevant to most, if not all, users and features promoted by King’s in the launch. Tribal did clarify that the ‘My Timetable’ page has been accessed over 650,000 times and the ‘Student Records’ page over 22,000 times since launch. They argued these were better measurements for engagement with the app, but KCL did promote the ‘follow’ feature as a key benefit of the app last year.

Limited engagement may be a product of the app’s seemingly one-size-fits-all design. A number of key functions, including access timetables, KEATS and library space bookings, simply redirects users to a webpage, rather than the function being included in-app.

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