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Student and institutional success begins with the employee experience

Blogs Business Transformation

by Sandy Forrest, General Manager for Ascender ANZ Public & Enterprise Services

The higher education sector is one of Australia’s top contributors to the economy. The past decade has seen the industry generating A$30 billion in revenue year on year from 2016 until 2019, with international education comprising around 20% share in these profits. With over 200,000 full-time and casual employees in academic and professional roles serving almost a million students across different campuses, Australian higher education is a truly complex, multi-faceted industry.

Despite the significant role that it plays in the country’s economy, the sector has been fraught with several challenges in the past decades. Lack of government funding and budget cuts, high staff turnover, market saturation and continuous learning are just some of the challenges that Australian universities and educational institutions have been facing in the past years. In 2020, COVID-19 joined the mix, causing a decline in international student enrollment, leading to eventual job and revenue loss. These challenges force institutions to shift their business models to continue serving their students and supporting their workforce.

It might seem strange to use the term “business model” for higher education institutions because they are often not seen as businesses but centres of research and learning, or even a public sector (albeit more agile and independent). But these institutions need to be profitable to survive, so the strategies applied for corporations may also apply to the education sector—and this may be the key to help them thrive amid these challenges.

“Employee experience” has become a buzzword in recent years concerning organisational strategies, for a good reason. Various studies have shown that companies who invest in their staff saw greater employee engagement, resulting in higher profits and better customer experience. The same is true for higher education institutions—although, in this case, a better employee experience creates a great student experience, which leads to the institution’s success.

Educational institutions thrive when their students are successful, and for the students to be successful, they need to be supported by engaged staff. These are the employees working for the institution: faculty, tutors, administration staff, and everyone who works in the background—from IT to marketing to HR. When employees have the right tools and efficient processes, they are empowered to serve the students better.

But where to start? One way is to reduce manual and time-consuming tasks and turn them into efficient, automated processes. Whether through process reviews or implementing technology (or both), efficient processes mean fewer time-consuming and repetitive tasks, giving faculty more time to focus more on their lessons and teaching strategies. Staff will also be able to respond more quickly to student inquiries, creating a smoother student experience.

Another way to equip your employees is to provide more learning opportunities for staff through online learning. Recent surveys have shown that higher education institutions rank low in giving their employees training opportunities—an irony given that they are in an organisation dedicated to learning. By providing learning opportunities for their staff—whether through face-to-face classes or online courses through a learning management system—institutions can signal trust, boost motivation and support their improved performance, which, in turn, helps them better keep the student population.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light several underpayment issues in universities, particularly for casual workers. Errors in pay directly impact an organisation’s wellbeing and culture, leading to high staff turnover. Ensuring employees get paid right is fundamental to any organisation, but perhaps most especially in the higher education sector. Losing one or two employees can decrease the quality of work for the remaining team, incur additional hiring, onboarding, and training costs, not to mention the possible reputational damage, negatively impacting the student experience.

Universities are a treasure trove of data that can give a lot of insights once harnessed correctly. However, manual processing and the lack of tools to understand what the data means these often not harnessed to help in decision-making. Human Capital Management systems usually come with reports and analytics that could help better manage campus employees and students. These systems can pull data from all parts of the employee lifecycle—from recruitment to onboarding to performance management, learning and payroll—and analyse these to identify gaps, highlight what’s effective, and even measure the result of any strategy implemented through engagement surveys. Proper data analysis allows institutions to make more sound and proactive decisions about their people; in the same way, teachers are proactive in creating lesson plans and curricula.

Students invest a lot in their education, so it is natural for them to have high expectations of their quality of learning and service. With this in mind, the higher education sector will significantly benefit from investing in their employees’ wellbeing so that they can help their customers—the students—thrive academically and beyond.

Want to learn more?

With over 50% of the public ANZ Universities already using Ascender technology for payroll, we find ourselves in the centre of our client’s transformations – and we couldn’t be more excited. Fill out the form below to get in touch with our business development representatives and learn more Ascender’s payroll and HR solutions.