Case Study: UCL ICARUS

Bringing accountancy to life for a global student community

The ICARUS airport business simulation, designed by LAS in partnership with Unicorn Training and UCL, has added an immersive, realistic and fun element to UCL's MSc in Professional Accountancy

The Issue

University College London, one of the world’s top 20 universities, wanted to enhance their MSc course in Professional Accountancy with a business simulation. They wanted it to be challenging and complex but also easy to navigate and, of course, it had to look great and be engaging.

The Challenge

Unicorn Training had previously built many complex business simulations using Excel and Visual Basic. LAS, with our reputation for successfully completing challenging and complex projects,were brought in to partner Unicorn on the design and build of a ‘portal’ website that would manage the simulation files, create and manage teams of students and roll the simulation forward through ‘years’. UCL also wanted to encourage competition between student teams, provide an essential reporting function, and allow students to nudge one-another should a student become inactive. 

This is without doubt one of the most complex solutions LAS have ever built. As well as stretching our abilities, it needed to engage but also stretch the MSc students. Added challenges were that students on the MSc are based world-wide and don’t know each other. The majority have a full-time job, so the simulation needed to be immersive and exciting enough to hold their attention. Also, for many of the students, English is a second language, so this needed to be taken into account.

The Solution

Based on an airport business, the simulation enables students to research and build a business plan and explore different business strategies and scenarios. The simulation is sufficiently realistic that students can use and apply real world research to inform their planning and decision making in the simulation.  

Students work in teams of five to make a series of annual decisions and implement these in the simulation; including the timing of major investment in new terminal capacity, whether to focus the airport on budget or premium airlines, what kind of shops and food outlets they should have, managing the car parks, and a range of HR,operational, and financial decisions. At the end of each decision year, they upload their edited simulation file to the ICARUS portal which then rolls forward into the next ‘year’ of the simulation.  

Teams receive feedback on their progress and reflect on their performance, comparing actual results against their plan and benchmarking their performance against other teams on the leaderboard. The leaderboard is customised with around 20 KPIs, so the mix can be varied to focus on different aspects depending on learning objectives.  The KPIs represent a balanced scorecard of operational, financial, environmental and market measures, including airline service, passenger satisfaction, staff motivation and brand image. 

‍Furthermore,the simulation model can be ‘tuned’ by the tutor to represent differentcommercial and economic environments, and to include significant externalevents, such as a major spike in oil prices, an airline disaster, a terroristincident or a strike. This provides new challenges as the simulation evolvesover several weeks of real-time and several years in simulated time, focusingon different aspects of the syllabus.

Image of ICARUS Admin Portal Welcome Screen

The Results

UCL began using the simulation with their students in late 2016 and have seen course completion rates above 90%. This is unprecedented in the MSc’s history and has generated great interest within other UCL departments in taking a similar approach.  

The levels of engagement achieved in the MSc’s first two cohorts, have been remarkable. This is reflected in completion rates and pass rates plus student and tutor feedback. 

Registrations for the programme grew from 135 in January 2016 to 1300 in the first calendar year. In 2017 this number increased a further 25% to 1624 by the end of July, generating £m more in registration fees than anticipated.

UCL achieved an unprecedented completion rate, with 152 of the 156 students passing the programme. This represents a rise of 52% from the usual overall pass rate of 60%.

The project was delivered on time, within budget and has proven to be a huge learning and commercial success. Its success was measured not only in the future application of simulated environments for learning by the University, but also in student uptake and feedback, improved pass rates, and substantial financial ROI. ICARUS also won GOLD for Best Simulation or Virtual Environment at the Learning Technologies Awards 2017.

"ICARUS was an exciting, challenging and thought-provoking 5 week activity which involved a realistic 5 year simulation of Icarus Group International Airport"

'ICARUS simulation is a unique exercise which was very interactive and engaging, not just for me, but my whole team. This exercise helped us to understand the whole operation of a business. Even though the simulation was of an airport, there were the basic operations that every company has"

Student Feedback

"ICARUS is practical, realistic and immersive. The success of the first two years' enrolments has meant that the programme is financially sustainable and enhancements are already planned for future sessions"

Alan Parkinson, Deputy Director (Education) and Principal Teaching Fellow, School of Management

About UCL

UCL is London's leading multidisciplinary university, with more than 13,000 staff and 38,000 students from 150 different countries. Founded in 1826 in the heart of London, UCL was the first university in England to welcome students of any religion and the first to welcome women on equal terms with men. It is now in the top 20 Universities worldwide.

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