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									Oxford Brookes University:
A Sense of Arrival
Louise Simpson and Dave Roberts

This paper looks at how Oxford Brookes University presents itself to
visitors, and how that impacts on reputation. It compares the sense of
arrival with the impressions from competitor universities in the UK and
further afield. It also incorporates staff feedback and ideas discussed in a
workshop given at Brookes on 20 July 2006 on the subject of ‘A Sense of

Executive summary
1.1   Oxford Brookes is a modern university, with roots and values stemming
      from quality local community education, a commitment to access, and a
      lively and supportive culture. Its established reputation for teaching and its
      growing research profile have contributed to its position as a good new
      university but it now seeks to create a future that takes it into a new arena
      of excellence - to be, and be seen as, “one of the best universities”.

1.2   Any institution or business laying claims to excellence must make a high
      quality and distinctive first impression on its visitors (without doubt a
      “moment of truth” as defined by marketers) - then build on this first
      encounter through sustained customer care and high quality service
      throughout the visitor journey. An unimpressed visitor is unlikely to turn into
      a student, an advocating parent, a business partner, or benefactor.

1.3   The first impressions Brookes makes on its visitors - from the look and feel
      of the campuses to the style and speed with which information is delivered
      – are recognised as being important to its reputation. As that reputation
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        grows, so the expectations of first-time visitors and prospects will rise with
        regard to both the physical and service components of the initial interaction.

1.4     Whilst individuals clearly apply themselves to „meet and greet‟ with warmth
        and responsibility, the University is failing to put into practice agreed brand
        values or professional service deliverables. There is no customer service
        strategy in operation at Brookes, and no co-ordinated visitor welcome
        across the three campuses. This is probably already detrimental to the
        University, and is likely to be an increased area of vulnerability as students‟
        expectations rise in the „top-up fee‟ era.

1.5     An agreed strategy for corporate service across the three campuses needs
        to be immediately undertaken to ensure that visitors are attracted to the
        campus in the first place, then met and entertained appropriately, under
        commonly agreed procedures. Although responsibility for welcoming
        visitors is one that is shared by all staff, and to some extent students,
        quality control across campuses, effective customer care and
        presentational detail must come down to a strong vision and determined
        leader. An individual, e.g. a Director of Customer Relations, with talent and
        professional understanding should be given the responsibility to look after
        the „front of house‟ elements of Brookes, backed up by the senior
        management team. These require institutional SMT recognition and
        individual empowerment at a senior level but should not be costly to

1.6     The identity, values and customer care processes need to be echoed
        across a variety of arrival points – such as through telephone enquiry or the
        website, and locations, such as arrival points in the city. This is likely to
        require a combination of budget and partnership arrangements.

1.7     Research by David Roberts (2002) into how both applicants and academic
        staff evaluate the reputation or status of a university highlighted that the
        quality of the physical environment was one of the variables used in such
        evaluation by both groups. Physical elements were thought to be a tangible
        means of assessing quality and the financial robustness of the organisation.
        Both staff and students emphasised that the environment needed to be one
        in which they would feel positive regarding their study/work.

1.8     Research for the Higher Education Academy, conducted by The Knowledge
        Partnership and the University of Southampton (2005), indicated that
        students paying higher fees anticipated that a significant portion of
        universities‟ new income should be spent on facilities.

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1.9     Despite academic progress and high levels of staff commitment, Brookes
        does not look like an excellent and prestigious institution. Surveys indicate
        that staff and students are disappointed with the estate. Whilst the
        Headington Campus at Gipsy Lane is the front door, there are few
        indicators to point visitors in that direction, or give a sense of distinction on
        arrival. A review of the progress at many competitor institutions indicates
        that this is a significant threat in terms of market attractiveness.

1.10 A major master planning programme of campus development is currently
     underway at Brookes, which presents a rare window of opportunity to
     review and revitalise the estate, especially the front door aspects, which
     have a significant impact on reputation and first impressions. Brookes
     needs to consider the strategic requirements of visitor welcome as part of
     its campus restructuring. The power of iconic buildings in creating
     awareness and reputation building is being harnessed by many
     organisations in the sector and beyond.

1.11 Further „quick wins‟ should be considered in terms of make-overs and
     signposting of the estate, landscaping, and event programmes. In the
     medium term, these should be echoed at other key locations in the city to
     instil a sense of presence. These steps are also likely to require partnership
     working and be a regular budget line managed by a senior figure to ensure
     aesthetic and cultural values are conveyed.

1.12 Whatever type of building, landscaping or visitor event Brookes decides to
     engage in, it cannot stand still. The estate does not currently live up to the
     excellence of its academic reputation, and competitor universities are
     investing in their estate and creating internationally signaled arrival points. If
     it does nothing to create a stronger sense of arrival, our advice is that the
     level and quality of applications could be affected, particularly in the light of
     the new commercial imperatives of top up fees and the competition for
     international students.

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2 Sector trends – retail and leisure
2.1     In the UK, the knowledge economy, whilst stimulating transactions between
        the private and public research sectors, has highlighted the variance
        between university customer cultures and service functions, and those of
        business sector. If universities such as Brookes are to take full advantage
        of business partnerships, and extend technology transfer, they need to
        respond to business needs and match commercial service delivery and
        presentational standards.

2.2     Youth-oriented companies, such as Gap, Next and Carphone Warehouse,
        have embraced the delivery of quality customer care in a relaxed but
        polished environment. New arrivals in the retail and catering sectors have
        created a more global expectation of service delivery. Young people expect
        to be treated with professionalism, respect and care. In the HE sector,
        UNITE and others have recognised this climate, able to contrast their offer
        with that of both private landlords and the universities themselves.

2.3     A strong iconic presence, usually combined with a front door and customer
        service element, is becoming expected of a credible and modern institution.
        Only the most exceptional can make a virtue of their lack of accessibility,
        implying a certain intrigue by their impenetrability; Oxford and Cambridge
        best exemplify this phenomenon. Makeovers of museums, galleries,
        institutional buildings such as the House of Parliament or the Institute of
        Directors, have produced customer care programmes and visitor centres.

2.4     The Eden Project is probably one of the trail-blazing examples of modern
        interpretation and visitor welcome. Its living domes, education centre,
        shops, restaurants, music venues, etc. have all been developed with care,
        passion and the control of Tim Smit, the entrepreneur who made it happen
        who is an honorary graduate of Brookes, to agreed brand values and
        service. Universities are clearly not in the position, nor do they have the
        remit to entertain the public, but valuable lessons should be learned from
        the way the Eden Project takes a position on the environment and ecology,
        and carries its values throughout all its undertakings with such pride and

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3 Sector trends – higher education
3.1     In the global marketplace, universities in Asia, the Middle East and the new
        economies are creating state of the art spaces, some with major
        government support, in a bid to lead world advancements in science,
        business and technology (particularly China, India, Singapore, Dubai).
        Some of these have been developed in partnership with UK universities,
        leading to major new campuses, an extended international student
        experience and global awareness.

3.2     In the USA, universities such as North Carolina at Greensboro have moved
        to a one-stop shop model, centralising their administration and student
        services, making their reception area a large space with all central offices
        located clearly off this. The style conveys a message: „we are all here to
        help‟, rather than „we are very smart, while we guard the offices behind us‟.

3.3     The Frist Centre at Princeton is a new centre at one of the USA‟s top
        academic universities, combining visitor spaces with student-led tours and
        public entertainment, a student shop, and numerous bars and cafes. The
        visitor experience has been mapped in great detail, to convert prospective
        students, parents and donors. Everything reflects the values of Princeton –
        professionalism, excellence, sporting values, and vibrancy. Their motto
        „With one accord” is lived and expressed in the staff attitudes and their
        architecture. The enterprise is managed by a senior Head of Centre, who
        has fiscal power and full customer care authority.

3.4     Manchester University has created an impressive main entrance in its
        historic heart – next to the Whitworth Art Gallery and its Ryland Library, with
        main administrative offices clustered around the Victorian courtyard. A
        Visitor Centre leads off this courtyard, and also has a frontage on the main
        road. Signage is strong, with the bright purple branding of their new identity,
        created after merger with UMIST. The Visitor Centre acts as a smart
        reception point with prospectuses on display. Although not offering a full
        range of customer services, it has made a very impressive entry point in
        keeping with the brand values. Down the full length of its main road, the
        University creates a virtue of their campus building projects by displaying
        huge billboards around the development activity with messages such as
        “Building a campus to aid discovery”. As the masterplan leads to
        redevelopment for Brookes, these visual aids will be useful examples to

3.5     Harvard has a visitor centre that conveys information about the history of
        the university within a shopping parade, separate from the
        administrative/reception functions. York, Queen‟s Belfast, and Glasgow

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        have also set up visitor centres, which again act as a starting point, while
        selling merchandise.

3.6     The University of Warwick has created a centre in a different architectural
        style to its low level 60s architecture, slightly set apart from the heart of the
        campus, with a big carpark and easy access to the motorway. Designed as
        a business place for senior managers to interact with guests arriving in
        cars, there are open spaces and plenty of scope for working visitors to plug
        in laptops, with a Starbucks franchise, and a plethora of exotic plants and
        water features adding to the welcome.

3.7     One stop HE shops have risen and fallen in popularity over the years, but
        with the advent of top up fees, their raison d‟etre has been intensified by the
        need to explain funding and bursaries. Universities such as Staffordshire
        and Wolverhampton (both located in challenging locations in the Midlands)
        have taken their wares to the public in the form of a shop offering
        information on courses and services, to capture local markets.

3.8     A more international alternative would be to emulate the 24/7 answer
        service of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which uses the
        historic identity of its founder to create an „Ask Charlie‟ question area on the
        main website. Questions being answered by staff, often student workers, at
        all times of the day and night, so that the university is to prospective and
        current students at times that suit them.

3.9     The Manukau Institute of Technology in New Zealand, identifying the need
        to recruit and retain indigenous Maori and Pacifica students, has worked
        hard to create a student admissions building on campus, branded like a
        tube station, and has extended the symbolism to the whole student journey.
        Admissions, academic contact, student counselling, mentoring and
        language support have all been factored in as a stage along the loop of
        student learning, helping the Institute to identify where it can support
        students effectively.

3.10 Other examples of reputation building come from distributed models of
     place. At Bristol, the Russell Group university (with no defined campuses)
     has set about making its academic ventures more readily understood by
     creating a rolling programme of public events, centred around the research
     and the key personalities of its staff. Medieval walking tours, hands-on
     science exhibits, events tied in with the anniversaries have made the
     University more relevant and fun to the local public, without the potential
     burden of a fixed interpretation centre.

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4 First Impressions of Brookes
4.1     People form impressions before they physically visit, often through
        associations. Changes in application levels are known to reflect the success
        of local football teams, and research shows that „place‟ is a strong factor in
        student choice. Increasingly the web is a first contact.

4.2     In the past, market research on impressions of Oxford has made Brookes
        wary of mentioning the city to students from non-traditional backgrounds.
        Preconceptions (which may need further testing) are that Brookes is
        associated with culture and learning, safe, near beautiful countryside such
        as Cotswolds and Stratford, and close to London. How close are these
        preconceived ideas to the image that Brookes wants to project? And to
        what extent are these preconceptions simply notions of Oxford rather than

4.3     Most of the outward-facing pictures on the University‟s website home pages
        and second-level down, do not show any Brookes buildings. They reinforce
        such preconceptions: the pictures are the archetypal pictures of Oxford –
        bicycles, punting, dreaming spires etc. Whilst the image of Oxford as a
        centre of learning and place of beauty must surely form a strong part of the
        marketing offer, visitors may be disappointed with the estate when they
        finally arrive, or put off by a university that looks – from its website – rather
        like an Oxford university college.

4.4     A well sign-posted university connotes status and civic pride. Brookes is
        likely to have to work harder than most give the exceptional status of its
        neighbouring university. The physical welcome points start from the
        student, parent and visitor arrival methods - train station, buses, roads,
        tourist office, airport, hotels and the Park and Ride sites. Currently the
        Oxford train station contained no obvious information about how to get to
        Brookes, and the information office keeps office hours shutting at 5pm.
        There is no branded bus at the train station, nor signage suggesting which
        bus to catch, although the campus bus is a success story for Brookes. For
        visitors arriving by car, the University needs to looks at issues of
        signposting, ease of driving and parking, and arrival from motorways as well
        as through the city centre. The signs for Brookes are very low key, and only
        appear very close to the campuses.

4.5     Once visitors arrive, staff currently feel that visitors are easily confused and
        not impressed with the main entrance. Entrances at Wheatley are also not
        obvious, and the buildings unattractive. Visitors expect a courteous
        welcome, someone to answer questions, help with parking, or
        accommodation, a place to rest, eat and prepare (for an interview perhaps).

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        Staff in the workshop were very committed to welcoming guests, but felt
        that they did not always have the time or the budgets to do things properly.
        There was also a sense that no one was really in charge of standards.

4.6     Visitor-facing roles need to be given higher priority and be seen to be given
        priority by SMT. Frontline staff, such as Spike on the gate at Headington Hill
        campus and Jim in a similar role at Leeds Met, are part of the success of a
        visit. Universities market themselves most effectively through their staff (and
        students), through word of mouth and experience – not directly to the
        prospect through marketing communications. There is an inseparable
        linkage between student satisfaction and quality, and staff morale, attitude
        and quality. A strong sense of arrival should extend beyond the glamour of
        buildings to the reality of good customer care. Internal marketing is a
        prerequisite for successful external marketing.

4.7     Many universities are now looking to progress one stage further, setting
        higher standards for customer care. These include developments that open
        up the administrative functions, such as at Greenboro, RMIT Australia, and
        locating student-facing services where the students want them. The
        emphasis is on treating students as customers, but also ensuring staff are
        trained and deliver services in ways that are consistent with, and project,
        the brand values.

4.8     A brief tour of the website revealed that there was out of date information
        posted on the site regarding open days. Moreover the most recent ones
        had been cancelled and the next one was not until the autumn. Compared
        with many American universities, Brookes looks inaccessible. This
        impression was particularly disappointing for staff as Brookes has been a
        pioneer in daily student-led campus tours in the UK.

5 Major Campus Improvements
5.1     Architecture has long been used by organisations to convey their mission or
        values. Discussions in the workshop suggested that the values staff wanted
        to see embodied in new architecture were based around words such as
        caring, friendly, and environmental. A university that is friendly, however,
        does not stand out from the rest of the HE crowd. The imperatives of
        international prestige, which must be central to being “one of the best”,
        need to be translated in some way to new developments. An audit of
        values, and their embedding amongst staff is essential to determine how
        such values will be translated into building issues of style, architecture,
        materials, artwork etc.

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5.2     Brookes currently looks significantly less attractive in terms of its front
        doors, its faculty buildings and its public and outdoor spaces than many
        other British modern universities – despite its current label of best
        new/modern university. Compared to American universities, it looks humble
        and parochial. The fact that it has no instantly recognisable campus „heart‟
        is a drawback for visitors, and will already be deterring potential students.
        With the demands of international students and increasingly discerning
        home students, these architectural deficits will hit home even more
        aggressively in the next decade.

5.3     Investment in other British university public spaces is happening at a furious
        rate. Brookes has appointed masterplanners, RMJM with experience in the
        HE sector. This is heartening, but it is still lagging considerably behind the
        pace of many of its rivals. Since it has changed little since its polytechnic
        days, it cannot lay claim to the word „modern‟ in an architectural context,
        especially when one considers the architectural statements of other
        universities, including De Montfort, Hertfordshire, York, Lincoln, and
        Leicester. Robert Gordon has commissioned two Foster buildings to
        dramatically lift its estate and to create drive to its suburban activities, whilst
        Goldsmiths‟ new Arts building, designed to reflect and project the College‟s
        hitherto less visible creative values, has gathered much media attention.

5.4     Where universities do invest in new buildings, there are numerous
        opportunities for publicity, fundraising and repositioning. Architectural
        commissions also allow for architectural competitions, which would also be
        suitable for Brookes, as a leader in the subject. The publicity surrounding
        such a competition could be used to raise money and interest in the build,
        and help to tie in the local community. Brookes is fortunate in having a
        strong tradition in architecture and a powerful cohort of honorary graduates,
        who might advise on the design of a new/iconic front door building.

5.5     New build doesn‟t necessarily require a complete new building, and Derby‟s
        new opening space, joining older (dull) buildings has created a more
        impressive front door. Princeton‟s Frist Centre has taken the elements of
        heritage from old science labs, and wrapped them with a new building
        keeping the best of both worlds. Anglia Ruskin, with very limited space in
        Cambridge, built a glass atrium on its old building and took itself into a new
        era of match its name change. Again in Cambridge, the old hospital was
        stunningly converted into the Judge Institute for Management, now used for
        community and commercial activities too.

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6 Makeovers and Quick Wins
6.1     Whilst a new building or campus re-design requires significant investment,
        there are a variety of changes that Brookes should undertake immediately
        to improve the visitor welcome experience. A fresh look at its „Sense of
        Arrival‟ – from buildings, to signposts, to joined-up customer service – will
        help the University move forward in the short term, and create talking points
        for visitors, staff and students alike.

6.2     Given that it has a loyal staff, and very strong reputation, the service
        standards and visual interpretation of that reputation is achievable but it
        does require effort, imagination, a sustained buy-in from staff, and a clear
        management structure, ideally led by a Director of Customer Relations with
        access to high quality design ideals.

6.3     Signage should be refreshed and made more obvious, and information
        should be included at transit points, and travel interchanges. Leeds Met
        uses flags to great effect on its Headingley Campus and on the side of
        various buildings to promote its sporting credentials and associations, as
        does Anglia Ruskin as part of its new frontage.

6.4     Social space is often taken to indicate the quality and value of an enterprise
        – a pride in customer care, staff and product, and many universities are
        catching up with the commercial sector in terms of their cafés and
        restaurants. The Institute of Education improved its reception by inserting a
        small and informal cappuccino bar into its atrium ground floor space. King‟s
        College London has invested substantially in making the Strand a centre for
        the whole university, which is spread across five campuses. Two new
        dining areas open to staff and students take pride of place in the old library.

6.5     Staff still however want their own sense of place in their own working
        environment, so a balance has to be struck in achieving both the public
        showcase restaurants, as well as the smart area with a water cooler in an
        individual faculty or hall of residence. Australasian universities are very
        good at integrating staff and student cafés in a central court, and offering
        them a good quality choice of food in a commercial style setting. These
        courts are usually open to the public, and surrounded by shops so that the
        public-private divide is broken down. The British Library is also a wonderful
        example of the marriage of research and social space, with good cafés,
        iconic sculptures and entrance ways stunning the first time visitor.

6.6     Staff formally and anecdotally in the workshop were critical of Brookes for
        lacking a strong sense of place for current staff and students, as much as
        for visitors. There are few areas or opportunies where people gather to

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        socialize and exchange ideas. Dining facilities are said to be shabby and
        the density of Gipsy Lane oppressive; other campuses have no obvious
        places for visitors or staff to relax. One workshop participant said that the
        low ceilings made you feel as if the buildings on Gipsy Lane were more like
        a comprehensive school than a university. Brookes needs to address its
        social space urgently to avoid looking frumpy.

6.7     In addition to a well-constructed business plan, Brookes should also ensure
        that it considers how any new building or space can enhance its brand
        values. If it wishes to be known as the environmental university, it might for
        example use fair trade materials and adopt a cutting edge sustainable
        design. Recent refurbishments were described as being dated in style even
        as they were completed. This should be of concern - decisions about
        aesthetic choices need to reflect modernity and excellence.

6.8     In the medium term, these steps should be echoed at other key locations on
        public faces of the campus and in the city to instil a sense of presence.
        These are also likely to require partnership working and be a regular budget
        line managed by a senior figure to ensure aesthetic and cultural values are

6.9     Gardens and water landscaping have long been used to suggest power and
        potency to public space. The lakes of Edge Hill have been highly successful
        in taking the institute from humble college to progressive university, and the
        Brunel water feature is a recognisable signpost of arrival. Gardens, tree
        planning, and nature trails bring in wildlife, and provide enjoyment for the
        local community in keeping with Brookes‟ stated policies and values. The
        gardens of Headington Hall are a beautiful feature that staff feel are
        currently undervalued and underused. The hillside setting also offers the
        prospect of showcasing the University from time to time using lighting
        shows, fireworks, air balloons, kite flying for example.

6.10 Events, such as outdoor concerts, poetry readings, science weeks, art
     installations, and music are some of the options that other universities are
     including as part of their community and visitor offering. Brookes is unusual
     in not having a theatre or concert hall, or a major programme of events
     beyond its public lectures.

6.11 Sculpture and statement art has been used very successful at Princeton to
     inject as sense of both history and modernity into the campus. A trail of
     famous quotes, including Bob Dylan, previous politicians, and sporting
     heroes, makes Princeton seems a happening place, content with being part
     of a modern landscape at relatively low cost.

6.12 On a grander scale, Britain has seen big bold sculpture statements, such as
     the Angel of the North, and the Millennium Bridge, used to revitalise.
     Universities themselves are beginning to see sculpture as a powerful tool in

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        terms of reputational management. The new bridge for Northumbria
        University will join two campuses across a busy road, whilst raising the
        University‟s status and giving it a strong icon. RDAs have a role to play in
        many parts of the country, giving access to large grants, which in turn will
        put more pressure on Brookes.

7 Recommendations
Many of these actions may already be underway as part of the master planning
process, but here is our checklist of recommended research and activity:

1. Compare front doors of competitor universities Assess Brookes against its
closest rivals in terms of the impression of the quality of architectural estate,
event programmes and visitor welcome. How does it compare? Where is it
failing? What will these rivals look like in 10 years‟ time? What does Brookes
need to look like to compete?

2. Reputational audit: agreeing values and vision What do your target
audiences want from you? How do they compare with your „hoped for‟
reputation? What do external stakeholders think of you and your
values/reputation? Do you look and feel like an excellent university? In what way
do you want to change your external reputation, or reinforce it, through
architectural build? What values should be conveyed in a sense of arrival?

3. Staff and student consultancy Use the masterplan process to address key
issues that the Sense of Arrival workshop prompted. These might include: What
do staff and students want, need, like, dislike? What social spaces do they use?
What are journeys like? Which receptions work? Any buildings that create
obvious front doors?

4. Visitor analysis The University needs to segment its visitor audiences so that
it can start to specify the sort of experience they should have and to give some
priorities. How effective are the current front doors? Define important secondary
audiences – community, business, international tourists and rank to determine
which comes first if budget is tight, This should tie in with your strategic priorities.

5. Customer service improvements Provide a framework and leader for an
agreed customer service. Ensure all staff know what this is, but train and
reinforce with key staff in outward facing roles (reception, security, parking etc).
Employ Director of Customer Relations for quality control, and to look at how

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student and visitor experience is extended beyond the first impression. Create
mechanism to protect quality of aesthetic values.

6. Create plan for the new ‘Sense of Arrival’/Front door/One stop shop
Agree scope or any new build/staff grouping, match to key stages of
communication, construction, finance, staffing, and running costs. Consider
implications in terms of publications, merchandise etc. Consider measures of
success for agreed venture and how to extend the brand through customer
deliver and shared values.

7. Signage and iconography Immediate: Landscape, signage and sculpture,
flags, lighting. Signage from all major travel points. Walking tour from station
clearly signposted.

8. Online: Look at improving and enhancing the web site. It cannot be under-
estimated as one of the key tools in establishing your reputation for all your
visitors and stakeholders.

9. Support. Assess which volunteers, local partners, pressure groups might work
with you. High profile alumni might provide informal feedback and top level



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