Nice to ‘virtually’ meet you

Lee Mansell, Residential Support Co-ordinator at ASRA member Sheffield Hallam University, tells us more about the cost of e-inductions

We have seen that the students’ journey and expectations have changed significantly and we now embrace students as customers and see halls of residence as a major tool in the recruitment process and the students’ university experience.

Online inductions appeared in the mid 2000s, with several universities trialling packages and others fully adopting them as the future with regards to delivering what the students themselves expected – a seamless transition from home to hall.

Whichever package we choose to use, online inductions have to deliver consistent messages to our students:

✥Health and Safety
✥Wellbeing
✥Key collection arrangements
✥Introduction to the staff in halls 

The natural evolution of the e-induction process has seen increasingly diverse information and messages being provided – much of which has little to do with halls of residence or university accommodation services which, in most cases, actually own and fund the induction: 

✥Traffic management on arrival weekends
✥Sustainability and green thinking
✥Signposting to university support services
✥Community engagement
✥Students’ Unions

We now have a method to deliver the current, relevant and often mandatory information which is easily updated, downloadable alongside supporting links to websites and external information sources which the old academic lecture-style induction delivery could never offer.

With the introduction of e-inductions, institutions have seen a reduction in costs in terms of printed documents, hand-outs and arrival books. Staff time needed to administer the inductions has also lessened with the removal of the need for evening and weekends spent talking to students over several days to ensure that the key messages are delivered, the requirements of the various codes are met and, of course, that the experience of the students is delivered and enhanced.

So, the use of e-inductions is a great step forward and saves us money in the long term but the cost of implementing a successful model can be considerable when an institution is giving access to thousands of students. With minimum annual costs being around £6k, depending on the induction model used, there are many institutions who, at a time where purse strings are being tightened, might question the investment in an e-induction.

However, all is not lost and there are many opportunities to recover outgoings and use e-inductions as a link to commercial departments within the university including:

✥Bedding and arrival packs
✥Catering packages
✥Sports, societies and membership packages
✥Printing

If we were able to say that you are, in fact, able to recover all the costs of the induction I imagine that the idea of implementing would be much easier to sell and the possibility one step closer to reality.

The annual cost per student using the induction is around £5 per year, equal to 11p per week (based on a 44 week tenancy) – good value to ensure that all students living in halls of residence would receive consistent and hall specific information no matter what time of year they arrived.

Making money from e-inductions

We might now look at how to add another level to these calculations: could e-inductions actually be used as a commercial income generator and therefore not only cover the costs but also make money?

If you have a successful induction process you also have a product which other accommodation providers might consider introducing to their own direct let students – private halls, shared student housing landlords and nominated partners all of whom house our students and would benefit from the use of an induction process.

To give an example, if a private hall landlord had 200 rooms and you charged them an annual induction administration fee of just £5 per student for those students to receive your e-induction you would see a return of £1,000 towards your costs, you could also of course consider charging £10 per student – still not a lot for a landlord to pay to have their arrivals info, emergency procedures, out of hours maintenance info, wellbeing and health and safety communications responsibilities taken care of with no printing costs, consistently delivered throughout the year no matter when the tenants arrive. The last consideration would be for commercial advertising within the induction.

At Sheffield Hallam University, we are introducing a ‘moving on’ module to our e-induction, SHUstart, wherein private sector landlords pay for their company logo and a link to their website or property shop (all are already registered with the University and local authority) and pay an amount which is comparable to a one-page ad in a local student property guide.

At £250 per advert this has generated an income (from the 15 logos we’ve used) of £3,750. A typical module based e-induction could have around 100 individual pages – charging the same amount as above with one logo/link per page would see an income of £25k.

Proactively managed, they hold the potential to introduce your students to your city, help them engage with the local community, encourage them to use the university services and stay in touch with what’s happening right across their chosen institution.

Through the inclusion of appropriate advertising, the provision and administration of third-party inductions and sponsored links within the e-induction can successfully deliver an increased student experience and significant financial income.

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