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Moments to master: meeting student expectations in a digital age

Moments to master: meeting student expectations in a digital age

Published by Jason Howard

No matter what sector you work in or what size your business is, positive customer experience has become a core competitive advantage. Higher education is no different. If you want to recruit and retain the right students, and build a community of advocates amongst your alumni, you need to pay attention to the experience your digital channels provide.

This experience starts well before their first day on campus. According to Austrade and Deloitte Digital’s 2019 scoping study, Digital Engagement in International Educationthere are areas for improvement at every stage of the student journey. And from initial awareness and interest in studying overseas right through to post-graduation experience as an alumni, digital channels play an increasingly vital role.

Students use digital channels to research their study options, ask friends and family for advice, connect with international education agents, check online reviews and forums, deal with enrolment and immigration processes, and build their support networks once they settle down to study. A good digital experience means they will feel engaged (by useful and relevant communications or content), informed (by accurate data and updates) and supported (with responsive, personalised services).

However, the study highlighted gaps in the ideal experience. It can be hard for students to find up to date, unbiased information when they’re making such an important, life-changing decision about where and what they will study. The idea of moving to a far away, unknown land can be stressful enough, without poorly designed websites and out of date processes adding to the confusion. 

They want a single, trusted source of truth at their fingertips and an intuitive online application process. They also expect real-time responses like those they receive from many other online transactions – from banking and shopping to entertainment streaming. 

The study identified a few key ‘moments to master’ in the student journey. Getting these right can improve student experience by a proportionately higher degree. 

Moment 1: Personalised guidance through the research stage

When they start researching all their options, it’s a pivotal moment in the student journey. Their perception of the opportunities institutions offer will be shaped by family, friends, education agents and even strangers during the research stage. 

According to the study, students said this stage can be complex and frustrating, with so many different websites and physical sources to read through. 

That’s why they turn to agents, who act as a gatekeeper to that one source of truth, guiding them to make an informed choice. So how good are your relationships with agents? How strong is your network? 

Our own research with agents highlights what they value in their own experience with institutions: real-time application tracking, faster response times, simpler systems and up to date program information. This is backed up by a recent report by Cohort Go where agents listed response times, accuracy of information and delays with processing applications as key problems when working with institutions. 

At StudyLink, our priority is ensuring everyone has the right information at the right time to make an educated decision. That could be the student who is choosing between two institutions, the agent advising which path they should take, or the admissions team determining their suitability as an applicant. 

Accurate and timely information can help agents provide more personalised support. StudyLink’s global course search data is kept accurate and up to date with a combination of sophisticated technology and regular manual checks. It covers thousands of courses from 4,000 institutions around the world – without scraping websites for course data. 

Moment 2: A simpler, faster way to apply and enrol 

The Apply and Enrol stage of the student journey is equally important. The Austrade study found many students apply to multiple institutions, and if they get multiple offers they tend to base their decision on how quickly an institution responds to queries – and how efficient the application and visa processes are.

So speed really matters. Especially when a late response can lead to logistical hassles with accommodation and visas – adding to the anxiety of starting their new life in another country.

If admissions teams can respond to queries and send offers more efficiently, then more time can be made available to support students with the urgent and important queries that can’t be resolved by an automated response. And in turn, this will enable institutions to grow enrolment numbers without having to expand support teams.

Our solutions enable accurate, pre-validated student information to admissions without the need for manual re-entry, freeing up the team’s time to provide support to students.

The University of South Australia was able to halve its offer letter turnaround time and grow acceptances by 37% when it started using StudyLink Connect.

We see technology continue to play a crucial role here, providing a consistent and seamless application experience for students and agents, and a rich source of data for providers. 

Bridging the gap in the human experience

Improvements to digital channels at every stage of their journey does not only benefit students. It also provides a better experience for partners (agents) and for admissions and international office teams. Another Deloitte report, The Human Experience: Quantifying the value of human valuesfound that if your organisation is closely aligned with customer, workforce and partner values, it will grow faster and build stronger loyalty. This is what the report defines as a ‘human experience’.

Austrade hopes a focus on student experience will continue to strengthen Australia’s successful higher education sector as it works towards the AIE2025 roadmap. But these findings are just as relevant to every global market that seeks to expand and improve its international education sector – and meet the needs of an estimated one billion students in 2025. 

If you’d like to learn more about how StudyLink’s solutions can help your institution master the moments that matter in the student journey, please get in touch. 

AIEC masterclass highlights

AIEC masterclass highlights three things you need for best practice student admissions

Published by Ingeborg Loon

The theme at last month’s Australian International Education Conference (AIEC) in Perth was Leading the Way. And for me one presentation stood out, showcasing how important it is to lead the way in student satisfaction from the very first point of contact.

UniSA’s Aleicia Shekhar and AECC Global’s Daryl Fong presented their Best Practice Speed Masterclass to a packed room, with an audience eager to hear just how the University managed to halve its offer letter turnaround time while also growing international student applications by 35% and acceptances by 37%.

Aleicia said it boils down to three key ingredients:

  • Automation that allows you to scale
  • Communication that creates transparency
  • Customer service satisfaction that leads to trust.

Automating at scale

To handle up to 40% more GTE assessments and still meet your promise of offer letter turnaround time you need a robust system. Automating routine tasks in the process is the only way to grow. UniSA has been working with StudyLink to embed more automation since first deploying StudyLink Connect in 2016.

With the unprecedented amount of regulation institutions now have to comply with – also a big topic of conversation at AIEC – you also need a system that can do the heavy lifting for you when it comes to reporting. One example is being able to ask the right questions on application forms, which allows you to bring every aspect of compliance into the assessment process. 

Building a positive partnership with agents

Daryl provided the agent’s valuable perspective, noting how vital communication is to maintaining a strong relationship. Agents represent your institution, and are pre-screening candidates while also providing advice on language and academic entry standards. 

They need access to a system that gives them all the information they need to help students make the right decision. But they also need transparent access to the status of student applications. If they’ve passed on the promised turnaround time of two weeks, they need to be able to reassure anxious students – and their parents. 

Improving customer satisfaction

Being responsive and clear in your communication with both students and agents is a short-cut to building trust. Students will often apply to multiple institutions, and they’re nervous about who will accept them. So are their families, who have pulled together the funds to invest in their child’s future. While they may not accept the first offer that comes through, it’s the one they’re most likely to be excited by. They’ll start to research what it will be like to study and live there, and may already be down the track of making a decision before offer letters two and three come through.

That’s why it’s so important to be fast – and where possible, first – with an offer letter. It’s also important to benchmark your own performance against other institutions. In general, about 60% of applications received will convert to an offer, and one in four applications convert into a student enrolment. 

As Aleicia and Daryl discussed in their lightning presentation at AIEC, first impressions matter. If you can deliver on your promise to both agents and students, you can maximise your return on investment in marketing and comms. And, just as UniSA has done, transforming your recruitment and admissions system with a very simple ‘back to basics’ approach can also help save costs and streamline operations. 

All it takes is implementing the right systems to automate, prioritising clear communication, and delivering on your promise – to students and to agents.

APAIE 2018: Opportunities and challenges for admissions in the digital age

Last month at the APAIE conference in Singapore, over 2000 delegates from 53 different countries came together to tackle one question: what impact will the fourth industrial revolution have on higher education in the Asia Pacific? While we took the opportunity to present our research on the emerging tech’s potential to grow global agent connections, we also learned some interesting things. Here are a few takeaways.

Technology is still a major barrier between agents and institutions

Although StudyLink Connect is now the industry standard, many institutions are still working with their own portals – making it difficult to recruit through agents. In fact, we heard that some of these colleges and universities aren’t working with recruitment agents at all because they fear their application processes are too complicated. Agents are facing similar frustrations. Overwhelmingly, they told us that they would like more universities and colleges to implement StudyLink Connect – to help reduce the time and money spent working within multiple, complicated systems. What does this tell us? Some institutions are still reluctant to seize the automations advantage – missing the clear benefits of maximising their global agent connections.

More agencies are consolidating to keep up

As technology continues to transform international admissions, smaller agencies are consolidating with larger, better-resourced agencies in order to invest in their own digital developments. This was a key trend in our discussions with agents at APAIE – and something that also came up in our recent Agent Advisory Meeting.


Agents want StudyLink to service more sectors

Agents would like to see StudyLink opened to more sectors, such as vocational education and English language colleges. This is something we’re very interested in, and we’ll be undertaking user testing on new Agent Portal features over the coming months.

Find out how AECC Global have used StudyLink Connect to submit more than 4,600 applications to institutions across the world

NZ positioned for exponential international education growth

New Zealand is already known for punching above its weight when it comes to rugby prowess and stunning scenery. And it will soon prove a worthy global contender in the international education sector, with the New Zealand government targeting a 25% increase in the value of this sector to its economy by 2025.

International education is already New Zealand’s fourth largest export, and in 2015 124,000 international students chose to study in this Pacific nation. But scaling up to a NZ$5billion market will require an investment in agent relationships and student admission systems, as the presentations at this year’s NZIEC revealed in August.

In preparation for our first venture into this important market as an exhibitor at New Zealand’s annual international education conference, we carried out a survey in July. We wanted to understand what advantages New Zealand already offers international students, and what their admissions experience is like today. And the best place to find out is from the people who talk to those students every day – the international agents already working with this market.

Security and stability attract more students

In good news for New Zealand, achieving that level of growth may be quite straightforward. 61% of the 92 agents who responded have seen a surge in enquiries into studying in New Zealand, and 78% anticipate the number of students applying to increase over the next two years.

They cite safety (72.8%), quality of education (67.4%) and value for money/cost of living (56.5%) as the main reason New Zealand is increasing in popularity.

NZIEC delegates also expect the growing Chinese middle class will fuel growth – but it’s worth noting they will be recruiting in an increasingly competitive global market, including the rapid expansion of opportunities at home.

China already provides 40% of New Zealand’s international students at university, according to Adele Bryant of ThinkNew. She also noted China has 318 million millennials – but Chinese study abroad student numbers are forecast to peak at 700,000-800,000 in 2022.

Admissions will need to scale with demand

With this in mind, there is work to be done. One of the biggest hurdles for New Zealand institutions is streamlining admissions management in advance of increased demand. International agents told us of their frustrations with application turnaround time in New Zealand (42.4%) and the inability to check the status of applications (27.2%), along with poor communication (16.3%).

These are all issues we’ve seen and dealt with before in Australia. Through Studylink Connect, with our cloud-based admissions platform, providers reduce data entry and workload, and improve turnaround time, compliance and communication. A third of Australia’s higher education providers now use the system.

In just two examples, University of South Australia recently cut turnaround time from up to six weeks to as little as 48 hours, while Western Sydney University slashed its turnaround from 10 working days to three – while at the same time increasing the number of acceptances.

Just as we’ve seen in the digital transformation of other industries, an efficient paperless workflow system is fundamental for scalable growth. One that also captures and analyses valuable data and provides performance reporting is a competitive advantage.

Easier for agents, improved student outcomes

The agents we surveyed are just a representation of the 6,800 who use StudyLink Connect globally. They told us that when institutions implement our platform, turnaround time improves, as does communication between provider and agent. They also have increased visibility over the application process, and it cuts data entry.

These factors will also become even more important as New Zealand seeks to scale the number of students who apply, and successfully study, in its higher education system.



Uncertain times, new opportunities

With the election of Donald Trump in the US, the crisis in the Eurozone and Brexit continuing to be high on the political agenda of Theresa May, 2017 is sure to see some interesting changes for international students and institutions alike. 

Predictions coming from the UK are showing that a cap on international students is likely to cost the British economy more than GBP2 billion per year. Part of which, it is anticipated, will be made up by an increase of fees paid by European students coming to the UK. The US, on the other hand, are likely to lose substantial revenue from international students due to President Trump’s recent immigration ban and ongoing political instability within the region. The impact of these changes is not necessarily going to be felt by the elite universities of the region, but by the second and third-tier colleges and universities who rely on international student fees to aid in the employment of top teaching staff and award winning facilities.   

As the world continues to grapple with numerous potential changes, particularly across Europe, the Middle East, UK and the US, international student numbers are continuing to rise in Australia. Information released by the Department of Education in February shows that Australia continues to shine. International student enrolments have increased by 10%, up from 8.9% the year prior, and continue to lead the way when compared with other English speaking study destinations. 

Despite uncertain times, the education market remains highly competitive and continues to face many factors simply out of our control – political leaders, immigration policies, exchange rates to name just a few. It is, therefore, crucial to continue to focus on those factors that are within our control. A future students’ experience throughout the application process is crucial to the success of institutions and is well within the institution’s control. 

Increased service quality and responsiveness, improved turn-around times, simplified and standardised processes as well as accurate and tailored reporting while also integrating with other software and systems are all areas within an institution’s control with StudyLink Connect. Having a system in place that will nurture and grow relationships within the institution, with business partners and applicants alike, will ensure the investment made is able to produce maximum results. 

To find out more about how StudyLink Connect works, please contact Jason Howard

Australia’s foreign commencement growth “wide and deep”

Australia’s recovery story continues as a first-of-its-kind report by the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) reveals international student commencements in Australia have rebounded after five years of shrinkage. The first six months of the year have seen more than 422,000 new commencements – an 11.5% increase on January to June 2013, with green shoots being seen in the ailing VET sector and notable growth from most source markets.

Read the rest of the article at The Pie News

UK introduces tougher immigration rules for universities and colleges

The British government has announced tighter controls on institutions that sponsor international students to study in the UK. Under the current rules, universities and colleges can maintain their Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status if 20% or fewer of the students they recruit are refused student visas by the Home Office. Prime Minister David Cameron announced that, as of November 2014, that threshold will drop to 10% “after a three-month grace period for colleges and universities to re-examine and improve their admissions procedures.”

Read the full article from the ICEF Monitor

“This is a problem that Australian universities have been managing since the introduction of the genuine student tests after the Knight Review.” explains Jason Howard from StudyLink. “StudyLink Connect helps admissions save time chasing information and replying to emails about an application so they can work on assessing quality, genuine applicants.”
1 million student applications processed!