By Matt Dunkin, Managing Director, Collabco
Student lifecycle – it sounds a bit like customer lifecycle, and to be honest, you wouldn’t be far wrong. Just as our retailers try increasingly to personalise our shopping experience with them regardless of the channel through which we choose to buy (face-to-face or online), universities and higher education finds itself in the same situation. Students by virtue of paying fees are now customers, and retaining them provides the same conundrum as it does our retailers. Customer retention is always less expensive than customer acquisition – so how can we personalise the experience and stop them from falling by the wayside in those early months of their first year of study?
Digitisation is having an enormous role to play in this, delivering the channel via which students – usually equipped with smartphones, iPads and other devices – can engage with the institution. The admissions process is simply one touch point in the complete digital lifecycle of a student, from recruitment through to alumni. Universities must begin to hook students in by using their digital presence, social media and even new technologies such as virtual reality as well as their reputations and of course, past results to better effect. Importantly, no one is immune to change; even those institutions with the greatest resources and strongest brands and reputations must adapt to deliver real world students to their places of work.
Universities must begin to hook students in by using their digital presence, social media and even new technologies such as virtual reality.
We were once told by a professor at one of the UK’s leading collegiate universities: “You can divide universities into recruiter universities and selective universities – we already get ten to fifteen applications per place, so we don’t have to be at the forefront of any of this digital stuff to affect admissions. There is no real incentive internally to try new things, because there’s no need to.”
It was shocking to hear given its doors are open to a millennial generation – a section of school leavers who prefer to do everything on their smartphone, including, one would assume, learn and communicate at university. Digitisation isn’t just about making life easier on campus, although it undoubtedly does, it’s also about keeping students engaged with their tutors, their peers, and in extra-curricular social activities that are part of the university experience and keep them coming back for more. It also delivers an excellent way for tutors to see who may not be engaging with online learning services and provide a red-flag to intervene before it’s too late.
So how can the digitisation of higher education help school leavers to find places in universities more easily, and how do those establishments instigate relationships via technology with their prospects more efficiently? Should universities be attracting students much earlier – before they fill in their applications or reach the clearing system?
School leavers begin their search for institutions online months before they apply to their chosen university or college. Those universities that create a unified digital culture right across their institution, including via social media, VLEs, the university website, email, apps, intranets and all other content accessible on any device in real-time, will attract the best students long before applications are filled in. This is the generation that uses social media ubiquitously – talking directly to them to entice them is easier than ever. It requires clear vision for what the future of our universities looks like based upon the technology available, and it will require significant resources to make those changes. Get it right, and each university’s brand will benefit from the changes, attracting school leavers to their digital doors months in advance of any formal applications.
Digitisation represents the most radical area of change impacting modes of learning and accessibility to knowledge. Students expect to be able to connect with everyone from admissions officers to alumni representatives – and they expect to be able to do it online whenever they choose. Making yourself available is key. Those universities that set their digital stalls out before the open days begin in earnest and personalising their approach will undoubtedly raise their awareness, cement their reputations and attract the best students.