Significant forces of change are reshaping the higher education sector across Australia. Funding limitations, the rise of digital and evolving student demands has seen student services transformation become a key way for universities to meet these challenges head on.
For Central Queensland University (CQUniversity), the transformation of their student services function has been crucial to not only improving student experience, but also driving efficiency across the organisation.
With 26 delivery sites across five states in Australia, CQUniversity’s end goal is to provide personable, flexible and effective support services for over 35,000 students.
For the past three years the university has also been focusing on how to ensure a centralised provision of services and accessible specialist support located across various campuses.
But the journey has not been without its challenges. With support service models across universities normally weighed down by hierarchy, inefficiency and a culture that resists change; CQUniversity has worked hard to create an environment that supports transformation and rolled out new platforms to engage students.
Ahead of Student Services Transformation 2017, Chris Veraa, Director of Student Experience at CQUniversity, shares insight into the steps his team has taken to establish a streamlined professional services structure that meets varying student demands across multiple campuses and the lessons learned from their transformation journey to date.
The vision: centralising student services to improve the overall student experience
“Our transformation journey began in 2014 when we began re-amalgamating the private arm of our university, merging with a formerly government-run TAFE provider and expanding the number of campuses within our existing footprint and also in other parts of the country.
There was a triple-down growth from a logistical perspective and as part of this journey it was important to ensure that our student services functions were responsive to student needs in the midst of these changes.
As part of bringing these different arms together, we had three very different cultures coming together under one umbrella: the university, the private arm of the university and the TAFE. With these three different cultures came three different approaches to student experience and ways of doing business. So the main goal during the initial stage was to unify the wider team into a streamlined and consistent function on a national basis. Our aim was to take the best out of each of the former cultures and create something new that all staff could really get behind.
During the merger, I had a very strong philosophy that the services provided to each student – whether they were a TAFE student, a university student or a research student – would be the same. To achieve this we had to do a stocktake of what services were offered across our newly amalgamated workforce and plug the gaps to ensure all staff were able to be responsive to all students.”
Rolling-out a multi-channel strategy to provide accessible and flexible services
“As part of our services transformation we employed a multi-channel strategy to ensure we could engage with students everywhere. We have campuses in five states and by the same token, about 50 per cent of our students are studying by distance or online. This means we need to be responsive at a campus level, but we also need to have centralised communication channels that students can access from anywhere around the country.
Our multi-channel strategy includes front-of-house staff at student welcome centres at each of our campuses. Students can utilise these services for enrolment or admission enquiries, or they can use those staff as a triage for other services.
Secondary to that, we also have a contact centre which operates at one of our sites but is basically a phone and email enquiry service for students in all parts of the country and even more globally.
We also have a student communications team which deals with inbound and outbound communication and engagement. This function is tailored strictly to the needs of students and ensures that students are aware of all the information they need. This team also receives enquiries via email and social media and is responsible for our student-facing social media presence as well.
In addition to the mainstream social media channels, we also have a university-specific social media channel called UCROO. We adopted this platform early on and we have found really great traction because it is only available to students and staff, so all the discussion platforms directly related to university. It also means we can replicate the on-campus experience for students who don’t study on-campus. It also provides a platform for on-campus and off-campus students to interact with each other and share useful information.
We’re also trying to continually improve how we manage enquiries and provide student services. We are exploring things like live chat where we can talk to multiple students directly. We also have a strong provision of online video conference platforms to provide student assistance to those that might not be on-campus, which seem to work well in the majority of cases.”
Bringing stakeholders together to ensure effective transformation
“During any transformation, it is important to put yourself into the shoes of your internal stakeholders and understand what is driving them. For example, for me, I am driven by improving services for students and ensuring a great customer experience. But this may not be the same driver for other stakeholders. It is good to take on their perspective and understand what they want to achieve out of a situation so you have some ammunition in terms of how you best can work together.
If you can take on the other stakeholder’s perspective and also try to give them insight into your perspective you can find middle ground and it is easy to understand how you can influence each other’s KPIs.”
Overcoming challenges along the way
“The transition to running a dual-sector university student services department, compared to a strictly higher education-focused department was a challenge. There are clear administrative differences between the TAFE sector and the higher education sector which we have had to overcome. We have also had to rapidly multi-skill staff who may have come from a strictly TAFE background or a university background.
We put all staff in the mix together and they have had to learn each other’s skill-sets quite rapidly in order to carry out the requirements of a diverse student services portfolio.
Another challenge, which is more relevant to the VET sector, is the provision of government subsidies to students. There has been a range of bureaucratic processes imposed upon providers which have made processes in some ways slower and less efficient. While there is not much we can do about these changes, we have found new ways of accommodating it to make other processes more efficient.
An ongoing challenge has also been student perception versus reality. Students come into university with expectations of what it is going to be like, which does involve expectations around customer service. Students do hold universities to the same customer services standards that they would a bank or retail outlet. They don’t necessarily understand what has to happen behind the scenes to enroll students or process ID cards etc.
It is not our job to tell them how hard it is, it is our job to ensure the process is as efficient as possible and ensure they have a relatively seamless experience. Increasingly students also understand they have a lot of choice and options when it comes to universities. As a result, we have to understand that the way things have always occurred within universities may not be matching the expectations of the millennial consumer. We have to try and meet in the middle to ensure we are providing a level of service that is on par with the service they would receive anywhere else.”
If you’re interested in learning more, you can join Chris at the Student Services Transformation Summit taking place in 2 weeks time at the Bayview Eden in Melbourne.
For more information Download the Brochure here or call +61 9229 1000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org