To apply to Dundee in 1967 you had to request a paper application form from The Secretary of the Scottish Universities Entrance Board. The completed form was then to be returned with a cheque for £1.10.

Generations of students registered using updated versions of paper applications until UCAS scrapped all paper forms in 2004.

However twenty years later, a legacy of paper forms lives on: the Microsoft Word form.

Microsoft Word has been able to create “forms” since 1993, however in reality what it did was digitise what was previously done with hyphens and underscores on a typewriter.

The caveat with Word forms is that they are designed to be printed and filled in by hand.

Despite updates to Word over the years that theoretically allow for a form to be completed on a computer, this remains a poor experience and one we need to cease using for the following reasons:

1 They are not accessible (and therefore illegal)

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, are a global standard created by the World Wide Web Consortium.

The UK Government Digital Service state that while Word or PDF forms can be made to meet the WCAG 2.0 AA standard (with specialist input) they cannot meet WCAG 2.1 AA.

Our website is covered by the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 which states that public sector websites have to meet WCAG 2.1.

This means that we have a legal obligation to ensure that every part of our website is accessible to as many people as possible. If we do not, we are potentially in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The Cabinet Office are proactively reviewing Higher Education websites to check their compliance. They have already reviewed our website and given us recommendations which we implemented.

Future breaches can result in the University being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and potential court action against us.

2 They’re difficult to use

Word forms are sort of useable when on a desktop or laptop PC, but even then they can have issues. If you have ever tried to move an image in a Word document you will know how sensitive the formatting can be to any changes.

Meanwhile on mobile and tablet devices, which account for half our external web traffic, they do not render consistently if at all. Users may:

  • require a separate app which may require a licence
  • find it difficult to save a copy with fields completed
  • have difficulty submitting once completed

People expect online forms to be intuitive, straightforward, and quick to complete. Word forms are none of these things.

Even if the user is able to be use the form, it will often appear in tiny text due to being formatted for A4 paper rather than a mobile screen. This means the user has to scroll around side to side and up and down constantly trying to squint at a page.

3 They are not interactive

Web forms, such as those created on Microsoft Forms, can include various interactive elements.

They can validate a field to make sure users fill in a date correctly, set character limits for form fields where appropriate, and use mandatory fields to ensure we capture the necessary information. You can also include conditional questions that only appear if a previous question is answered in a certain way.

Trying to ask complex multi choice questions via Word can result in cumbersome tables with certain letters of numbers that need to be entered in specific ways. On a web form this can be replaced with elements such as a drop down list for simplicity.

4 They are frozen in time

Once a form is downloaded it might as well have been printed. If you realise there is an error with the form there is no way to correct this on previously downloaded copies. With a web form updates are instant and show for all users.

5 They rely on manual data collection

Once the forms are submitted they have to be processed by hand. This introduces the risk of error and is time consuming and slow.

Online forms automatically save and can be exported to various formats including Excel which can then be easily imported into other systems such as SITS.



In summary, while Word forms had their time, online HTML forms offer superior accessibility, interactivity, and efficiency for collecting information from users.

PDF forms are covered by many of the same limitations as Word forms and should also be consigned to the past. They are unable to meet the levels of accessibility required of our websites by law, and therefore should no longer be created or added to the site. Continuing to allow Word documents can put us at risk of legal action and a breach of Equality law.

There are still forms on our webpages that rely on PDF and Word documents. These are legacy documents that are in the process of being replaced. Examples include applications for distance learning courses which will migrate to Direct Application (eVision) following this year’s SITS upgrade.

The University is already committed, as per our accessibility statement, to publish only PDFs and Word documents that meet the accessibility standards. We will be looking to remove all content that does not meet those standards in the future.