Birkbeck, University of London

Internal management system and website

As explained on its website, Birkbeck is “a world-class research and teaching institution, a vibrant centre of academic excellence and London’s only specialist provider of evening higher education”. Over the years Birkbeck has developed a ‘Staff Approval’ internal management system and a multifaceted website to serve the needs of its prospective applicants, current students, alumni and other interested parties.

Birkbeck first engaged Netsight in 2012, requesting specialist technical development assistance to enhance its existing ‘Staff Approval’ management system. In two stages over the next year Netsight helped extend this internal system, applying its expertise in Python, MySQL and Plone to add new functionality and features to the management application (which is hosted and maintained by Birkbeck staff). During this period, Netsight worked both on-site and remotely with Birkbeck staff to deliver requested improvements.

In 2015 Birkbeck again engaged Netsight to work on a sequence of development initiatives,  in part focusing on the user interface (UI) of its multifaceted university website. Given that numbers of users accessing the university website via mobile devices had been increasing dramatically, Birkbeck asked Netsight to design and deliver a new responsive theme, for retrofit onto its existing website.

To facilitate on-going work by Birkbeck staff on the front-end UI, independently of the back-end content management system (CMS), Netsight implemented a new responsive interface based on Diazo ( theming engine and Foundation responsive UI framework.

In addition to this, Birkbeck requested major upgrades (from Plone 3 to Plone 4) to the CMS supporting various sections of the university website. Because sections of the university website run on multiple server instances, Netsight and Birkbeck agreed that for pragmatic reasons the responsive theme UI refresh and CMS upgrade were to be implemented in several stages.

As the most heavily used section of the Birkbeck site, the ‘prospectus’ area ( was given a responsive theme in July 2015. In November 2015 the ‘corporate’ section of the Birkbeck website (see was the next to deploy the new responsive theme, with its underlying CMS upgraded.  Netsight has been working with Birkbeck to upgrade the CMS and to prepare for re-launching other sections of the university website over the following months, after Birkbeck staff make changes to optimise content for the new mobile-friendly responsive UI.

Ultimately, Birkbeck staff will continue to manage the upgraded CMS platform and updates to the website UI. Throughout this latest development process, Netsight has been working both on-site and remotely with Birkbeck staff to agree each stage of work and to facilitate knowledge transfer, acting as consultants throughout the process.