Recently Nous Group delivered a webinar for UK university finance directors on the topic “How can universities sustainably deliver an outstanding student experience that continues to meet student needs?”. The webinar was part of the British Universities Finance Directors Group (BUFDG) Finance Festival. Presenting the webinar on 13 March 2023 were Nous Principals Julie Mercer and Simon Lancaster and Nous Director Jessica Weereratne. We are pleased to share some key themes from the event.
By Julie Mercer, Simon Lancaster and Jessica Weereratne
Student experience is topping the agendas of higher education institutions across the globe. Universities that can deliver not just exceptional educational outcomes but also an outstanding student experience will be at a competitive advantage. But in an environment where universities face significant financial and resourcing pressures, knowing where and what to invest in, can be a challenge.
At Nous, over the past year we have connected with nearly 200 staff and students from universities across UK, Australia and Canada to understand what universities have designed, implemented and monitored to create an outstanding experience for students. This research is detailed in our new studyreport, "From promise to pragmatism: Delivering a better student experience", which features the results from our inaugural student experience study.
In the webinar, we explored three questions: Why is the student experience important? Where are universities investing? And is the investment paying off?
There are three reasons why student experience is important:
Historically, many universities took a one-size-fits-all approach to student experience. But our study found that universities realise this no longer works. Students and their needs have changed. More students are attending university, bringing greater diversity. And as health and wellbeing are prioritised, student experience leaders across our study noted a significant rise in demand for student mental health and wellbeing services.
Improving technology was cited by university leaders as the approach that has been most effective in improving student experience. Our study showed that, irrespective of university size, institutions want to increase or significantly increase their investment in technology.
Universities are also looking to create more integrated systems, enable greater self-service, and tailor services to individual needs. This allows students to access the information and support they need when they need it, and at the time that it is most relevant to them.
In addition to large-scale investment in technology, universities are undertaking targeted initiatives to be able to both pilot solutions and meet student needs. These targeted initiatives include developing strategic partnerships and centralising the professional service workforce.
Automating manual workflows is helping universities reduce enquiry response times, pre-fill enrolment forms, deliver tailored communications, and automate requests for transcripts or other learning certificates. One leader described automating processes as “game changing” for student experience.
Monitoring and reporting are critical to understanding the target outcomes and the effectiveness of universities’ initiatives.
But many universities are not confident they know how to measure student experience, and so are unsure where to invest to maximise impact. In our experience, coherent and iterative measurement is most effective. Universities are using sophisticated data analytics to understand their students and what moments matter, and then to design and deliver targeted support. And survey respondents said collection and monitoring data isn’t enough; measures to hold leaders to account and ensure continuous improvement are vital.
For a long time, student experience was not prominent nor prioritised. This has changed. Student enrolment, followed by a good experience, is critical for institutional sustainability.
In our experience and the results of our survey confirm, interest in student experience will continue to grow.
Get in touch to explore how we can help your university sustainably improve the student experience.
Connect with Julie Mercer, Simon Lancaster and Jessica Weereratne on LinkedIn.
Prepared with input from Shona Sutcliffe.
Published on 29 March 2023.