Why the University experience needs to deliver more to students
The calls for modernisation and future-proofing of the Higher Education sector continue and are in all actuality gaining pace. The last few months has seen the dispute over the future of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) continue unabated; whilst April heralded the inception of the Office for Students (OfS). Without a shadow of a doubt, it is likely that we can expect new research informed by students' views addressing what constitutes the student experience. Analysis will need to be undertaken in the context of value for money given the levels of student tuition fees and living costs. The level of engagement/scope of the need for Universities to connect and entice students is at the very heart of the concept of accountability for the student experience.
When announcing the year-long review of student finance and university funding, the Prime Minister, Theresa May warned that the system has failed to deliver sufficient competition on price. Theresa May called for better value for students in England, but ruled out completely scrapping tuition fees. Labour, by contrast has said it would abolish fees and bring back maintenance grants. Nestled in between/amongst these diametrically opposed positions is the student community. Theresa May says she remains committed to the principle that students "who benefit directly from higher education should contribute directly towards the cost of it" but has said scrapping fees would push up taxes and mean limiting the number of university places. At a time when universities are already facing turbulent times this is hardly the answer.
What is clear is that the University experience needs to deliver more to students and place them at its very heart. The investment required by students to complete their degrees is higher than ever. The OfS’ remit will include looking at the non-academic experience of students. Comprised within this is the pastoral considerations inclusive of general well-being management in addition to the accessibility to and the quality of facilities on offer at the Institution. Of direct correlation is the level of accountability to be affixed to the Higher Education Institution. The central question is when does the student experience start? Does the student experience begin from the moment the student comes into contact with the University as a brand? Recent commentary focusing on the mapping of the experience raises this point and furthermore questions whether students should be viewed as consumers. As such is it when the prospective student first interacts with the University by visiting their website to review the prospectus, specific course material or at a later point such as at the submission of their application, visiting the campus or acceptance of an offer that the student experience truly begins? Clearly, the student marketing and attraction process is pivotal and this is widely regarded as the first touch point and the start of the student experience journey.
How each institution implements their experience is different and is reflected by how the Institution’s offering interacts with the student, such as the library, student services, and placement guidance. Many Higher Education Institutions are implementing a CRM platform to seamlessly integrate student facing services as students demand more. For certain Institutions it is the digitising of services and support where focus is centralised. More traditional Universities are not only digitising services but also investing in other areas which are important such as career services/libraries. Universities are finding that they need to invest in the student as ‘a customer’ to improve their online and physical presence. Although roles defining or taking responsible for this experience are somewhat zeitgeist – more and more Institutions are channelling resources into this space.
If your institution is looking for expertise to provide you with the talent or talent attraction solutions to focus on the student experience, contact me at Fiyin.Fayeye@penna.com