Enhancing Software Testing in the Complex World of Higher Education

Tuesday, 05 September 2023

In the Higher Education (HE) sector, software plays a pivotal role in keeping institutions running smoothly. From managing student records and timetabling to finance and accommodation booking, HE software is a complex ecosystem with many integrated components. This complexity often results in unique challenges for software testing. Prolifics are HE sector specialists; as a part of having worked for over 25 of the UK’s universities, we have carried out a number of targeted consultancy exercises. In this blog, we explore the complexities of software testing in the HE sector and how strategic reviews, like the health checks we conduct, help address these challenges. 

Challenges in HE Software Testing

  • Complex, Integrated Applications: HE institutions rely on many interconnected applications, with the student records system being a critical cornerstone. Ensuring seamless integration and functionality across these systems can be a daunting task.

  • Seasonal Peaks in Usage: HE institutions experience significant spikes in usage throughout the academic year. Key events like clearing, module registration, results, and timetabling demand rigorous performance testing to prevent disruptions.

  • Regression Testing Bottlenecks: With limited testing resources and time constraints, regression testing can become a bottleneck. Automation becomes a necessity to speed up this process, but it requires the right tools and expertise, and it must adapt to evolving applications. 


Our Approach 

Our approach to health checks in the HE sector revolves around close collaboration with university IT teams and rapid turnaround times to provide maximum benefit. The process typically spans five days: three days for information gathering and two days for report generation. Prioritising findings is crucial, as it guides universities on which recommendations to implement first for the most significant impact. 


Common Pain Points 

Health checks often reveal several common pain points in HE software testing, including: 

  • Lack of a unified testing strategy across university departments, with applications having different owners and a siloed approach to testing.

  • Overreliance on users for testing, often without the necessary testing knowledge or guidance, but also without the necessary time to give testing the attention it deserves.

  • Lack of a central repository for test cases that can be re-used

  • A reliance on suppliers carrying out testing on applications that are heavily bespoke for use in specific institutions

  • Insufficient regression testing and a lack of test automation 
  • No process, tools or expertise in place for performance testing 


Success Stories 

We've had the privilege of witnessing remarkable improvements in software testing quality across various HE institutions. Our health checks have helped universities formalise their testing processes, ensuring consistency and confidence in released software. We've implemented test automation frameworks, implemented data validation frameworks for migrations, devised test strategies, and provided training to enhance testing quality. 

The impact of improved software testing extends beyond the technical realm. It directly contributes to the broader objectives of HE institutions, enhancing the student experience and enabling staff to perform their roles effectively. 



In an era of cloud migration and digital transformation, software testing is more critical than ever for HE institutions. Implementing a comprehensive test strategy, maintaining documentation and repeatable tests, embracing test automation, conducting regular performance tests, and designating a testing champion are key steps to address these challenges successfully. 


Click here to connect with one of our Higher Education experts for a no-obligation discussion and how we can help.

Jonathan Binks - Head of Delivery
Prolifics Testing UK

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