International student recruitment: automation can make all difference

Automating recruitment processes will reduce the potential for economic ruin, says Jeffrey Williams, co-founder of specialist software providers Enroly

In the wake of Covid-19, universities around the world are facing up to the next ‘normal’ as they rapidly adapt to accelerating demands for digital transformation in teaching, learning and student recruitment.

The UK, in particular, is currently staring at a £463 million shortfall for the coming academic year as 14,000 fewer prospective students from eight south-east Asian countries choose to cancel or put study plans on hold.

Enroly surveyed 100 South Asian international students in their home countries with current Ucas applications for UK universities. Worryingly, 20% said they would not commence their degree online, and 27% were unsure if the programme was intended to be delivered online-only. 

Times are tough and higher education institutions are doing everything within their power to protect the bottom line, while still seeking to encourage new enrolments and maintain a first-class student experience.

Pressure rising on student recruitment

Increased administrative processes, staff working from home and heightened pressures on existing resources are just a few of the challenges facing university international recruitment teams. 

One director of international recruitment recently confided that their university had reported losses among students that have paid a deposit in excess of £5 million over the last year alone. 

This outcome, they added, was largely due to administrative bottlenecks as staff struggled to keep pace with the more than 30 contact points required to interact with prospective students. 

These necessary obstacles range from answering immigration questions or helping extend visas, through to returning incorrectly completed forms and providing advice on university systems and services.

International student recruitment: automation can make all difference Jeff Williams
Jeffrey Williams, co-founder of Enroly, says administrative bottlenecks are costing universities dearly.

How automation tech can help

Even before Covid-19, many universities were struggling with fluctuating international enrolments due to unpredictable conditions, such as the cancellation and then reimplementation of the post-study work visa, changes to immigration legislation and increasing competition at home and abroad.

Delays and blockages in an already complex process frustrate students and recruitment staff alike. However, through the use of efficient and automated technology, institutions can ease applications and, post-acceptance, help students navigate immigration procedures.

Enroly builds solutions for exactly this kind of problem, including an automated applicant retention platform that takes care of CAS and visa administration tasks like document collection, which otherwise takes up valuable staff resources.

Our experience has found that 80% of the time normally dedicated to manual student communication processes can be reduced to 31%, a significant saving in costs and energy which enables frontline employees to focus on the quality conversations that prospective students demand.

Greenwich proves an exemplar of success 

Implementing automated technology might feel intimidating to some, but for many universities it is proving a lifeline by turning recruitment process management around. The University of Greenwich is a case in point, as an early adopter of automation to reduce costs and support recruitment.

The university applied Enroly automation to streamlining its post-acceptance admission processes, reducing end-to-end time from two weeks to two days. Previously, the most mundane conversion and compliance tasks were handled by individual admissions officers. 

The business case was straightforward: initiate an improved student and staff experience, reduce costs and check all regulatory boxes using a new automated system.

Chris Bustin, associate director (global), University of Greenwich, says: “We invested significantly in the first half of the recruitment pipeline, but due to the complexity of processes and compliance considerations in post-acceptance through to enrolment administration, we struggled to find a solution to help us better manage this stage. 

“Students often pay the price of these inefficiencies by missing an intake which can have devastating consequences to their lives. Enroly’s automation software has solved this problem.

“We used to do everything manually – requesting documents, providing advice and reading bank statements. Now, using bespoke enrolment and visa automation our staff are able to focus on reducing attrition and optimising compliance.”

The results speak for themselves: a fivefold improvement in administrative processing speed, 62% reduction in manual student-staff communications, and 75% reduction in enrolment attrition leading to revenue retention worth millions of pounds.

Despite all of these improvements it is unlikely that the future of university recruitment and admissions will become completely automated. Not all jobs fall into this category. Reality suggests that the future of student recruitment will consist of talented and experienced humans, augmented by technology. 

It is the time-consuming activity adding to already heavy workloads in a highly demanding and competitive environment that needs to be eliminated, meaning the only practical way forward in the current climate is for universities to automate high-volume and repetitive tasks. 

Jeffrey Williams co-founded specialist software provider Enroly.

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