Data analytics: How the HE sector can enhance the student experience

The student experience is a massive selling point for universities – in both an academic and social context. But how do university leaders really know if the students enrolled at their institution are happy and engaged with their choice?

It was estimated that in the 2019-2020 academic year, over 2.5 million students enrolled in higher education courses in the United Kingdom, which is a trend that’s continued to rise since 2009-2010. 

But with more undergraduates choosing the HE route, this has created an increasingly competitive backdrop for universities to demonstrate why they should be chosen over others. Overall student experience is one of the most important metrics for institutions looking to attract and retain learners.

A closer look at the student experience

The pandemic has undoubtedly thrown many a spanner into the works where student experience is concerned, and universities have had to adapt accordingly to help create an environment that’s not only safe but equally as academically and socially enriching as pre-pandemic times. This has had, and continues to involve, many challenges. 

For instance, it’s no secret that the last two years have been a turbulent time for the education sector, with distanced learning having played a huge part of lecture delivery in 2020. According to findings from the National Student Survey (NSS), this appears to have had a negative impact on the overall student satisfaction. 

Interestingly, the study found that of the 332,500 UK learners who took part, 75% were satisfied with the quality of their course, and that one in two were content with the delivery of learning and teaching that took place during the pandemic. 

This was further compounded by the news that some universities across the country were recommended, by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, to repay tuition fee loans to disgruntled students who weren’t happy with the experience provided with online lessons. 

Harnessing data to see the bigger picture 

In light of all this, it’s never been more important for institutions to have visibility of their unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) data, as this can often help them to remedy any sources of discontentment. 

The truth is that, in response to the pandemic, so many HE settings across the globe implemented technology solutions such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Classroom to help them navigate the uncertainty and keep the learning machine going. But now many, quite rightly, are looking to evaluate the success of these investments, to measure their return. But this shouldn’t be solely considered in a financial sense – there’s learner wellbeing and experience to consider too. 

Without data and contextualised insight, education leaders are effectively operating in the dark – making informed guesses as to the reasons undergraduate satisfaction rates may be lower than in previous years, and making changes without knowing the real source of the issue. This can sometimes cause more harm than good. 

Being equipped with intuitive software that contextualises all the ‘need to know’ data and presents it in an intuitive dashboard not only saves decision-makers from hours of discussions based upon assumptions, but it also allows them to easily identify any bottlenecks and make effective decisions, as a result.

Take online lectures as an example. Say a student’s absence rate is high, they never have their camera turned on, and don’t submit assignments or contribute to seminar chats. While this could be indicative of potential technical difficulties, it could also represent wider wellbeing and engagement issues. 

But educators can’t truly know any of this without the data to back it up – which when unlocked, can be used to trigger additional support interventions that help to prevent course drop-outs. 

While student experience goes wider than the four physical – or virtual – walls of a lecture theatre, HE leaders can use the data associated with their UC&C investments to help paint a picture of undergraduate fulfilment and engagement regarding lesson delivery and course content. As a result, they can then use this intelligence to make informed decisions that help to improve the overall learning experiences they offer.

On the flip side of that same coin, data can also be utilised to help universities defend their position on course delivery. For instance, when it comes to a student’s learning journey, it’s not the sole responsibility of the institution to create the best overall experience. Students themselves need to play their part by being engaged and attending their respective lectures. Having the insight to identify this can therefore be a truly valuable tool for education teams. 

This kind of insight is not only valuable for decision-makers when looking to review and streamline operations to make them more pleasant for both staff and learners, but also to maximise efficiencies, and optimise already stretched budgets. 

Ultimately, if students feel listened to and supported – no matter their physical or virtual location – this not only helps to enhance their experience in the short term, but gives universities a competitive edge with future undergraduates in the long term too.

You might also like: Thoughtworks joins LSE’s Data Analytics Career Accelerator

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