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 The idea of moving to a far away, unknown land can be stressful enough, without poorly designed websites and out of date processes adding to the confusion.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

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.
Read more

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.
1 million student applications processed!