Connect News

A system built for purpose – The admissions system that got Swinburne get back in the game

As one of Australia’s leading universities, Swinburne University of Technology receives a lot of interest from international students. When its existing international application system was decommissioned in 2015, International Admissions had to switch to the University’s new Student Admissions System which was not designed to cater for international applications.

“It was very ineffective as the system was not optimised for international applications,” says Di Ruddell, Swinburne’s Head of Admissions. “There were many, many fixes required to cater to international application requirements. We kept having to ask for changes to the system which took a long time to be made. Some changes were never made.” As a result, application turnaround times blew out to six weeks or more – which meant they were no longer competitive. “We lost market share as a result,” says Di.

A system built for purpose
Swinburne’s Head of International Recruitment helped them find a new system. By taking the time to review, shortlist and recommend potential suppliers, Di and her team aimed to find a system that was:

• web-based and accessible from anywhere in the world
• fast and easy-to-use
• customisable, with the ability to package offers and manage templates.

“We wanted to have more control over the process. We needed a system that would allow us to create packages for two, three or four different courses,” says Di.
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How do agents really feel about Canadian institutions?

Ahead of this week’s ICEF conference in Toronto, we asked our agents to share their experiences applying to Canadian institutions. Here’s what we learned.

Enquiries to study in Canada have substantially increased

60% of agents responding to our survey have experienced a substantial increase in the number of students interested in studying in Canada, while 20% say they have experienced a minor increase. Additionally, 82% of our respondents expect this number will increase in the next two to five years due to the quality of education and migration opportunities.

Application processes still vary significantly

Many Canadian institutions aren’t taking advantage of the benefits of streamlined automation – as only 5% of our agents reported using StudyLink Connect. Instead, 34% of applications are processed online through institution-specific portals, and 24% by direct email. With 24% of respondents representing more than 51 different institutions, this is likely to lead to inefficiencies.

Slow turnaround time is a major frustration

When asked about their biggest frustration when applying to Canadian institutions, 40% of agents said turnaround time – on average, the majority (63%) experience timeframes of at least a week. Different application forms and varying processes were the second biggest source of frustration.

Agents want more Canadian institutions to use StudyLink Connect

Agents said they believe StudyLink Connect would improve turnaround times, with many saying it would also improve communication with institutions. The top three benefits experienced using StudyLink Connect have been:

1. Easier application submission

2. Having all information in one place

3. Ability to track documents in real time and faster turnaround

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

It’s time for admissions to seize the automation advantage

Lately, no conference or industry talk in the education sector is immune from discussions about the impact of AI (Artificial Intelligence). Everywhere we look, innovative companies are using technology to make manual and ineffective processes easier – and yet for education, most of this discussion focuses on preparing students for a workplace where machines will do their jobs.

Of course, there’s another application of this next tech frontier – university admissions teams can use its potential to improve efficiency, compliance and accuracy.

When the subject of AI came up again at a dinner StudyLink hosted before the AIEC conference in Hobart last year, it was clear our clients are excited (and a little impatient) for the arrival of AI. They are ready for the benefits of further automating many tedious processes, and feel that any technology innovations designed to enhance the student experience should be encouraged – and fast-tracked.

2017 Navitas Venture survey confirms this sentiment. Students, edtech founders and university leaders all agreed that of the many technologies emerging, AI would have the most significant impact on higher education. The same survey found that 72% of university leaders said digitising marketing and admissions would be very important as a means to drive recruitment growth.

Dispelling the myths of AI

Automation may be the beginning of the AI solution, but true AI is a very different beast. To understand the difference, it’s useful to drill it down into three parts:

    1. Artificial intelligence refers to the concept of technology designed to mimic human thinking – including the ability to learn and make decisions.
    2. Machine learning is the way AI is currently being applied. Giving computers the ability to use data to make decisions without necessarily being pre-programmed.
    3. Automation is software pre-programmed by humans to make repetitive, monotonous tasks easier. It relies entirely on its human-configured rules and cannot make other decisions.
The best emerging AI technologies across all sectors use both automation and machine learning to make life easier. Chatbots are one obvious example – helping us make complex product decisions such as insurance or mobile phone plan purchases for example. But we’re also seeing AI at work in the legal sector, with automatic document verification becoming more common.

In education, we’re beginning to see chatbots used to guide prospective students through the process of deciding what and where to study, as well as through other important and difficult steps in the process – like applying for a visa. At StudyLink, we’re working hard to make the most of both automation and machine learning as it evolves, and very soon our StudyLink Connect customers will be able to set rules to prioritise and rank applications depending on criteria such as English score, source country, and academic profile.

In the future, AI will enable the StudyLink platform to verify student identities, automate offers and make decisions on both credit recognition and the equivalency of international degrees – all of which are currently time-consuming manual steps in the admissions pipeline.
What role will AI play in student admissions?

Expanding the use of automation and machine learning into admissions workflows will help…
  • Save time and resources with faster application processing, automatic checking and replies.
  • Create better student experiences through responsive support systems to guide students through form filling, as well as other difficult steps in the applications process.
  • Increase staff morale by reducing the frustration of manual, repetitive tasks and placing higher value on relationship building tasks and personal career growth.
  • Make smarter decisions and set new benchmarks with the ability to capture and analyse more data for better insights and trend forecasts.
  • Increase return on investment by analysing and targeting recruitment around retention goals and outcomes from previously admitted cohorts.
  • Reduce risk of human error by improving decision transparency, and automating manual decisions such as scholarship criteria matching and qualification equivalency.

What good AI looks like today

That all sounds great. But is it really within the reach of most institutions? If retro-fitting emerging technologies into your current admissions process seems like an impossible, daunting task, it might be worth looking at some simple options that could plug straight in.

Here are some current features our customers have told us they appreciate most about the StudyLink Connect platform:
  • Built-in automation that can be customised to your unique workflows,
  • Standardised processes and assessment criteria across multiple platforms,
  • A simple dashboard that displays all of your application data in one place,
  • Transparent access to reporting and analytics, and
  • The ability to take advantage of more advanced machine learning technology as it evolves.
These are all tangible steps towards automation – and once these streamlined processes are in place, you’ll be ready to make the most of AI applications as they emerge.

Why NZ is the latest international education hotspot

2017 StudyLink Connect agent survey results

With the New Zealand Government recently announcing ambitious plans to grow its international education revenue by 2025, StudyLink Connect wanted to find out whether its university application and admissions were ready to scale.

So we surveyed our network. 92 agents who service the New Zealand market responded – and here are the results.

Demand for NZ studies is on the rise

• 61% of agent respondents have seen a surge in enquiries into studying in New Zealand
• 78% anticipate the number of students applying to increase over the next two years.

The main attractions include:

• Safety – 72.8%
• Quality of education – 67.4%
• Value for money/cost of living – 56.5%

But application efficiency is an issue

Most student applications to New Zealand are still processed by email (75%), with 49% by the institutions application system and 34% by an online application system.
47% said the average turnaround time for applications was between 1 and more than 4 weeks.
Agents told us their biggest frustrations for NZ applications include:

• Application turnaround time – 42.4%
• Inability to check the status of applications – 27.2%
• Amount of data entry – 19.6%
• Poor communication – 16.3%
• Varying application forms – 12%

The solution is simple

These agents all use StudyLink Connect to submit applications to other institutions around the world – and more than two-thirds said it would improve turnaround time if used by NZ education providers.

Top three benefits of using StudyLink Connect

According to agents:

• Easier application submission – 73%
• All information in one place – 67%
• Can easily upload all student documents – 53%

“It’s easy to submit the application in one portal, rather than submitting it individually at different university websites.” Agent respondent
Agent profile

Agents are an important channel for international student applications around the world. On average, the agents who responded service over 50 institutions around the world – but an average of just 4 in New Zealand. The majority process less than 100 applications per year for NZ institutions – mostly for universities or polytechnics.

Australian education agents make their voice heard at SYMPLED

While it sometimes feels like there are more education conferences than days in the year, none focus on the business of being an education agent. Until now, with SYMPLED 2017 in September.

For the 170+ agents who attended, the Symposium on Leading Education Recruitment at Sydney Town Hall was also a chance to have their voice heard, away from provider-focused discussions.

As Brett Galt-Smith of the Department of Education and Training emphasised, education agents play a vital role in bringing international students to our shores. In June 2017, more than 500,000 international students were in Australia – an increase of 14% on the previous year. It’s our most important service export, contributing almost A$22.5 billion to the Australian economy in 2016 and supporting over 130,000 jobs.

But agents are under increasing pressure. Some of the issues raised at SYMPLED include the new compulsory reporting regulations and global uncertainty over changes to migration policies – with some GTE decisions seen as subjective. Trust and communication between agents, providers and government is more important than ever.

So, it’s encouraging to see Australia’s education agents work together, rather than compete for business. One initiative we can expect to emerge from this event is Australia’s first association of Australia-based recruitment agents, with a working group formed during the symposium. This body could play an important role in building the professional recognition of agents within the education sector through training and development, and advocating on their behalf.

New focus on student outcomes

Australia continues to lead the world in the use of agents – and the regulation of their activities. As a crucial channel for quality students, good agents know how to work in positive partnership with institutions.

Although some agents have expressed concern about the new performance reporting, the DET aims to provide greater transparency. It also promotes the vast majority of education agents who provide a great service for prospective international students and the partner institutions they represent – including this good news at SYMPLED: 80% of students are completing their chosen course of study.

Collecting this data is important, because it allows agents to make decisions about the commitment and ambitions of the students they are placing – and it ensures providers also take responsibility for student outcomes.

Student satisfaction is a growing concern

Chris Evason of PIER Online presented the latest survey results of its agent learning community of more than 50,000 counsellors. Worryingly for our institutions, agents are most concerned about student dissatisfaction with providers – along with ‘poaching’ of students once they have arrived in Australia.

PIER estimates there are 7,900 agencies globally, employing 40,000 people, and says post-study work rights are having a significant impact on the choice of study destination.

Counselling increasingly depends on efficient access to data

As an exhibitor, I welcomed the chance to discuss these concerns in person with agents. Our platform, Studylink Connect, is now used by a third of Australian higher education institutions for international admissions – and it can streamline agent workflow and make their business more efficient. But it can also empower agents with the information they need to stay ahead of performance reporting – and make smarter decisions about potential student outcomes.

For education providers, access to this level of data can also ensure they choose to work with agents who will deliver on their promise of integrity – rather than volume – so they can avoid the risks of GTE ratings downgrades and build long-term, mutually-rewarding relationships based on trust.

StudyLink has also recently made its constantly updated course data available for counsellors to use in their website or intranet, to guide program selection.

I’d like to thank Robert Parsonson at Edex for taking the initiative with this event – we’re looking forward to keeping the conversation flowing.


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.



StudyLink User Group – May 2017

The StudyLink Connect User Group workshop will be held in Sydney on Monday, 8th May 2017. This event provides participants with an opportunity to review and discuss new and upcoming StudyLink Connect features; provide feedback on future system development priorities and share user experiences. Attendees will include key users with responsibility for admissions management, business process development, reporting, data management or system integrations. The format of the day will offer a full day workshop to all new users, while experienced users will be invited to attend an afternoon session. Registration details will be available in the coming weeks. An agenda will be distributed in early April to incorporate feedback from attendees. Timing of the user group meeting coincides with the IEAA Admissions & Compliance Forum taking place on Tuesday, 9th May. Information about the IEAA Admissions & Compliance Special Interest Group (SIG) can be found here. StudyLink User group - 8th May 2017

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

200,000 applications submitted on StudyLink in 2018