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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 The idea of moving to a far away, unknown land can be stressful enough, without poorly designed websites and out of date processes adding to the confusion.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. 

New master agent models magnify the transparency gap

New master agent models magnify the transparency gap

Published by Jason Howard

New technology platforms have transformed the way we do just about everything. It’s hard to imagine booking a holiday without first turning to an online platform to research all options, including advice from others through forums and reviews, before making any decisions.

But applying for overseas study is more complex than booking a trip. Making the wrong decision about course loads, costs or even language proficiency can have far-reaching consequences for the student, their family, and also for the education provider and their reputation in a global marketplace.

That’s why it’s so important to preserve the value an education agent provides, even as their model of delivery evolves.

The rise of online and self-service master agents

With increasing consumer expectations for 24/7 convenience and speedy service, it’s not surprising the international agent model has expanded to incorporate online-only master agents. Online counsellors can provide expert guidance and advice for individual students, without the need to visit an agent’s office. 

However, if these platforms become little more than self-serve application portals, a vital step in the advice chain is lost – and there is greater potential for issues if GTE (genuine temporary entrant) assessments are not carried out properly, or visa applications are made without thorough candidate vetting. 

These risks can also be exacerbated through the use of sub-agents, as the recent Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) advisory discussed. Sub-agents are education agents who provide a master agent with applicants, but don’t have a direct contract with the institutions involved.

Under Australia’s ESOS (Education Services for Overseas Students) Act, in order for agents to represent Australian institutions they must have a formal agreement with the institutions they serve, including a listing on that institution’s website. Education providers spend time and money training their partner advisers to support the fulfilment of their agreements, ensuring a quality pipeline of future students. But that effort may be wasted if the principal agent is simply delegating all student recruitment tasks to a network of sub-agents. 

While the practice of using sub-agents has been going on for some time as a lead generation tool, it’s concerning that institutions may have less visibility over who is recruiting, advising, vetting and guiding their incoming students. Particularly in light of the ESOS Act revision from October, which will require the details of the individual agent employee involved in each application to be entered into the Provider Registration and International Student Management System (PRISMS).

AAERI has advised its members that allowing sub-agents to apply to a provider, or apply for a visa on behalf of an applicant, could lead to future reputational damage. It recommends the principal agent takes responsibility for admissions and visas, and providers should also list ‘engaged sub-agents’ on their websites. 

This seems reasonable, given the principal agent is accountable for compliance under their agreements. Masking their workflow without proper checks and balances is in no one’s best interest. However, the industry still needs greater confidence in the transparency of the process. 

As demand for education grows, so will the risks of careless practices

With some forecasts suggesting global higher education enrolments are expected to grow by nearly 200% by 2040, new and scalable models will be needed to meet the continual increase in demand amongst international students. Students and their families will continue to make major (and expensive) decisions to study overseas – and there is an important role for quality, ethical agents to play in guiding them through their best options.

As a technology provider itself, StudyLink supports the application of technology to solve this challenge – as long as it is used to provide valuable advice and quality service in an ethical way, and continues to meet the agent’s obligations under institution agreements and regulatory changes. 

These different agent models will also need to be subject to the same rules and performance metrics as traditional agents – such as enrolment benchmarks, and visa rejection and degree transfer rates.  

To do this, the industry will need a more consistent and visible process for capturing and sharing agent data, ensuring the complete transparency that agents, providers and government agencies need. StudyLink is well-positioned to help with this, as our focus is on ensuring everyone has the ability to access the right information to make more informed decisions at every step of the process.

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.

Adaptable tech is the key to dealing with ESOS Act change

Adaptable tech is the key to dealing with ESOS Act change

Published by Jason Howard

It’s universally understood that regulatory environments are struggling to keep pace with the rapid rate of technological change. From social media to eCigarettes, by the time new laws are approved the product has evolved again.

However, the inverse is also true: when regulations do change, underlying business systems need to adapt quickly to comply. Otherwise, what is perceived as ‘additional red tape’ will reduce productivity, create frustration – and increase the likelihood of manual error.

Even changes that may be perceived as ‘minor’ by Government, such as the imminent update to the ESOS (Education Services for Overseas Students) Act, can be challenging to implement. From October 1, education providers will be required to enter additional information into the Provider Registration and International Student Management System (PRISMS) – including the details of the individual agent employee involved in each international student enrolment.

When regulations do change, underlying business systems need to adapt quickly to comply

That may seem fair enough. More data will help the Australian government control the quality and potential risks within its growing international education sector. However, in practice, meeting this requirement may not be so simple.

More than half of Australia’s international higher ed student applications are already made through the StudyLink Connect portal – 80% of which are submitted by agents. This makes StudyLink the largest aggregator of agent-generated applications into the country.

We know agent businesses vary from smaller operators to large, sophisticated and often complex organisations. And in those larger businesses, a number of different people will be involved in every student application – from counselling to admissions and finance. Identifying, capturing and manually entering individual agent details – from their name and email address right down to their migration agent registration details – will be time consuming.

Adaptability has long been identified as a core competitive advantage – and never more so in today’s increasingly global, uncertain and complex environment. And that’s why legacy ERP systems are increasingly seen as a hindrance.

Fortunately, as the StudyLink platform is cloud-hosted and we operate in an agile environment, we can respond quickly. And we’re already adapting our data entry systems to make it as simple and efficient as possible for our higher education provider clients to comply with the revised ESOS Act.

In the longer term, we recognise the potential of capturing additional data on a secure portal like StudyLink. It can help institutions make more educated decisions about their agent network, and provide greater transparency between all the key players in this ecosystem: agents, education providers, international students and government.

Given the scale at which we already operate, securely sharing international student application data for more than half Australia’s universities, integrating our platform with PRISIMS would also potentially improve the process further. By automating the transfer of required data, we can reduce the risk of manual entry or double handling and save admissions teams valuable time.

ESOS Act information is used to make important, potentially life-changing decisions about whether to grant prospective international students their visa, and how to assess individual institution risk. And that means the integrity and accuracy of this data is of utmost importance.

That’s why we are keen to work with everyone in the higher education sector to capture data as efficiently and accurately as possible. The new ESOS Act requirements have certainly not taken us by surprise – and nor will future regulatory changes which, like the pace of technological change itself, are inevitable.

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