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How to succeed in a Student 4.0 world

By Charlie Habershon, PA government and public sector expert and Phil Copestake, PA higher education expert

Every day we’re faced with hundreds of decisions and choices to make. But very few are as important as how, or where, we should invest our time and money in higher education or advanced training.

In the past, this choice was likely to be dictated by our family background, and framed by universities themselves. Those deciding to go into higher education would read prospectuses, take advice from career advisors or speak to family and friends. Universities could carefully curate their messages and courses were dictated by the interests and expertise of academics.

But it’s no longer this simple. Technological advances, widespread policy changes and an unpredictable employment market have shifted the balance of power firmly towards the student. Students have access to a wide range of providers – both physically and virtually. Digital technology and social platforms have democratised information sharing – taking control out of universities’ hands.

Universities have responded to these changes by focusing on student experience. We recently surveyed university professional service staff and 94% believed their institution was ‘experience led’. This focus has led to many improvements, but still places the university, instead of the student, at the centre, and results in modest gains rather than real transformation. We believe it’s time for universities to take this further and become truly ‘student led’.

Today’s students are empowered as never before, placing them at the centre of their universe. It’s this universe that influences their decision making and opinions. But at the same time, the complex pressures facing people thinking about higher study (young and old alike) have increased dramatically. New students have much more choice, and much higher expectations and needs than ever before. To compete in this changed world, universities must seek to step into the students’ universe and help them to navigate challenges and achieve their life goals. Welcome to what we call ‘Student 4.0’.

The customer-led revolution

The customer-led revolution

Find out more

So how can universities survive in a Student 4.0 world? We’ve found that concentrating on the following four areas is crucial.

  1. Focus on outcomes: start to segment your students based on their outcomes and map their universe. This will help you design your proposition to help students achieve their goals. Be willing to design services and build systems around student outcomes rather than relying on traditional institutional definitions and boundaries. A great example of this would be a ‘settling in’ team for new (or returning) students, bringing together staff from traditionally separate teams such as admissions, student registry and learning support.
     
  2. Build an army of advocates: In an overcrowded market with multiple channels of communication, it’s your advocates that will cut through the noise. No matter how dynamic your website is, nothing will be as powerful as a student telling their peers what a great university you are. The majority of universities have student ambassadors, but are they your best promotors? Using the Net Promoter Score, which can measure the willingness of students to recommend your university to others, will help you identify your promotors and then recruit them onto your ambassador programme.
     
  3. Think about lifetime engagement: The best universities never stop delivering value to students. You should aim to remain in their universe throughout their life. If a 33-year-old alum is looking for a new job, they should want to come to you for help. That way they’ll continue to advocate you and are likely to give something back. Ohio State University is a great example of this as they’ve created an ‘Office of Volunteer Relations’ to connect the alumni community with volunteer options.
     
  4. Look to collaborate to compete: When designing your services and systems, map the student’s universe and identify the organisations they engage with to achieve their goals. Seek to collaborate with these organisations rather than compete. For example, don’t set up a new digital community if students already have one. This way you can step into their universe rather than trying to drag them into yours.

We recently helped a Russell Group university to build a digital proposition to reach their millennial customer base. Previously, they relied on prestige and reputation to pull in students but these factors are becoming less relevant. By engaging with students, which included an ‘Art of the Possible’ workshop, we generated over 300 ideas that informed the design of a new proposition. This proposition places students at the centre and focuses on creating high levels of advocacy and life-long engagement. We left the university with a Student 4.0 digital strategy that will provide students with the tools to create their own learning journey and allow a lifetime relationship with the university.

Student 4.0 is here now and requires you to re-orientate what you offer around the student. It’s time to step into their universe.

Find out more about our work in government.

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