Head of Public Sector/Services, Bluefin Solutions
Funding crisis facing UK universities
The UK Higher Education sector has long enjoyed a worldwide reputation of excellence, evidenced by the fact that it is the second most popular destination for foreign students. However, now the sector is faced with unprecedented changes as it, along with other Public Sector institutions, faces enormous budget cuts. Earlier in the year the Higher Education Funding Council for England announced funding cuts to the tune of £573 million, only to be followed by the new coalition government announcing further cuts, now in the region of 25%.
Delivering more for less
According to recently published information from the Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), 660,953 people have applied for an undergraduate course, an increase of 12% over the previous year. The number of foreign students applying has also grown by 15%. So how do universities cope with this increased demand, despite the government promising there will be a further 10,000 places available at the start of this academic year? At the moment the average student-to-academic ratio is 18:1, which is more than in a number of other countries. And with the proposed cuts, this ratio is only likely to increase. So, while on the one side more people applying to university, and on the other there are cuts in funding, the challenge will be how to deliver more but for less.
Attracting the right students
Prospective students are becoming more discerning on their choice of university and therefore marketing departments have to become smarter about how they target their audience. No longer is it just simply about providing a printed prospectus to sixth form colleagues; the digital age has bought about a huge transformation in the use of communication channels. Prospective students have a plethora of places to find the information; the university website, Facebook and Twitter, to name just a few. The challenge for the marketing team is to make sure the information provided is consistent across all channels and that internal systems can manage the resulting interactions effectively, regardless of their source.
Managing the student experience
With a far wider choice of courses and institutions to study at, many universities are recognising the importance of effectively managing the student experience. There are many parallels to be drawn here with the consumer world, where we have become increasingly intolerant of poor service and at having to provide all our details multiple times as we are passed from department to department. The more enlightened universities have accepted that, in order to attract and retain their target students, they need to provide a consistent approach to managing the interactions between their students and the various departments they come into contact with as they complete their degree course.
The role of CRM
Most universities have mission statements, which include such things as; “more effective student recruitment,” “creating an excellent student experience,” “growing research income,” “finding new sources of income,” etc. By implementing an effective SAP Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, consumer-orientated organisations have found that, done well, this makes for a much richer, more intimate and satisfying experience for the customer – and universities are no different.
Implemented effectively, a SAP CRM solution can enable a university to build a single view of the student; an institutional memory. This commences at the time of targeting prospective students, through the admissions process, through to graduation and alumni, gathering a complete record all interactions and transactions, regardless of channel of communication. This means the student is effectively tracked, regardless of their change in role or position. Where this is done well, the student experience is enhanced, dropout rates are reduced and the cost to serve the student is reduced.
Bluefin Solutions has considerable experience of working with universities to help them understand how they maximise the benefits of implementing CRM solutions. We have implemented a CRM system for a major research university in the North East to more effectively manage their admissions process and worked with another leading Russell Group university to build their CRM strategy for managing the student lifecycle.
As an alternative to cutting teaching and administration staff and courses, is there another approach to responding to the budget cuts that has been effectively used in other parts of the public sector? In the recently published Government ICT Strategy, Shared Services places a prominent role with the government advocating an increased role for IT. Today, over 80% of civil servants are supported by a Shared Service solution.
But the Higher Education sector has been slow to adopt this approach, with institutions preferring to build and maintain their own IT and back-office capability. Local authorities that have combined their resources and spending power have been able to reduce costs and increase administration efficiency.
By adopting a Shared Services approach to non-value adding activities, universities can go a long way to achieving to their budget cuts without severely impacting the delivery of their core remit – teaching and research. Bluefin’s Shared Services solution for the Higher Education sector is powered by the SAP R/3 system, which has been successfully deployed in a variety of Shared Services environments. By adopting a Shared Service Centre approach to the financial challenges it is facing, this sector can be confident that the UK will maintain its position as the one of the world’s leading countries for learning and research.