What Higher Education Providers Need to Invest in now to have the Greatest Advantage Later

Posted: 28/06/2022
by: Ian Thomson

Now that we have arrived at the middle of 2022 and have learned to live alongside the COVID pandemic that wreaked havoc across the sector for the last two years, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on where we are now.

Borders are open and international students are returning, but not with the same strength or necessarily from the same sources as before. Domestic student enrolments that skyrocketed early in the pandemic are now flattening or declining.

Inflation is on the march, adding pressure to the cost of living. Unemployment is at an all-time low, and there is considerable pressure on wage increases. And we have a new government in Canberra.

Many in the sector have posted strong surpluses due to better-than-expected enrolments and significant cost-cutting. But gap years are back on the menu for young students, and there are plenty of jobs around.

The ’new normal’ is still unclear, and the sector has considerable fragility. Staff are struggling, prospective students have more choices, and financial sustainability is by no means certain.

This begs the question – where should universities and private providers be investing, if at all, and what drivers will impact over the next five years?

The last 20 years have been characterised by expansion. The number of providers has grown, and student loads have grown. Campuses across the country have seen building booms and large-scale renovations.

The tail end of this continues, but the pandemic has forever changed the nature of on-campus study. The legacy left by current and future leaders is unlikely to be a collection of award-winning buildings.

The focus now needs to be on shoring up the basics. Sadly, it’s neither exciting nor glamorous. But it’s essential. Investment in higher education needs to continue, particularly across universities, but it needs to be focused on process improvement, effective system implementation and integrations and sensible data usage, all delivering a strong return on investment.

The basics – recruitment, admissions, enrolment, retention, and progression. They all matter more than ever before. Providers that rely on disconnected or manual processes – and there are many of them – are falling further behind. Collecting data – and USING THE DATA – to drive targeted interventions is critical.

Most institutions have a healthy level of interest from prospective students but lose potential students at every point. Knowing where you lose students is vital.

Figures 1 IT article FINAL 3a

  • Are your systems integrated to collect the necessary data and give you the information you need in a clear and timely manner?
  • Do your teams have the resources, skills, and tools to act based on the data?
  • Are your teams accountable for what they do and what they achieve?

Over the last six months, we have worked across many universities to review their recruitment, admissions, enrolment, nurturing, and onboarding processes. The number with either no process or poor processes continues to surprise me. The often talked about goal of offers out in 24 hours is more likely to be three weeks at peak periods.

An amazing number of universities continue to review every application in person. And often, faculty teams distrust central admissions teams, resulting in every application being sent to faculties for personal review.

Given TEQSA’s focus on admissions transparency and the need to publish clear admissions criteria, I wonder how many institutions are heading for a compliance challenge, given the propensity to make personal judgements on every application.

Identifying students at risk of dropping out and providing targeted interventions BEFORE they dropout, is critical. Tracking how many dropped out might have to be done but adds nothing to your success.

Download a free checklist here showing where you could be losing students, where you should be collecting data, and where you should be managing interventions. And feel free to call for a chat about how we might be able to help your institution.