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Why Australian schools and universities need to act more like Amazon

Mark Ellis, Industry Director – Education, TechnologyOne

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Knowing what students want and finding a way to give it to them is the only way progressive schools and universities will succeed in a highly competitive education market.

Educational institutions have been around for more than 1000 years, so their resilience in the face of change is well-proven. However, existing business models are coming under increasing pressure as school and universities struggle to adapt to today’s students’ new ways of learning and working. This is particularly relevant in the higher education space where only the top-performing institutions can be sure of filling their courses, attracting the best students and (to the extent that government policies permit) charging the highest fees. These universities also attract the top academic and administrative staff.

In today’s learning environment, it’s no longer effective for schools, universities and other educational institutions to benchmark academic and business performance only against their peers. Instead, educators should be comparing themselves to all the other business and government organisations that students, parents and staff interact with. If they don’t, there is the very real risk of falling into complacency, stagnating and failing to innovate fast enough to satisfy the needs of increasingly mobile and ‘digital native’ students.

It’s critical that students’ needs and preferences remain central to the organisational thinking of schools, universities and other institutions. Here are the four key tips to survival:

1 Know what students want

In education, being consumer-oriented means providing students and parents with the right information and services via the right channels, to make the journey through the education system as smooth and valuable as possible.

To do this, schools and universities need to be aware of how, when and why they interact with prospective and current students and families. They should also understand and take steps to ease students’ ‘pain points’ which can include everything from applying for a student loan, finding affordable accommodation, affording school fees or managing educational workloads.

So, while there may not be a direct correlation between the education sector and the activities of retail giant Amazon, schools and universities should look to the online behemoth for pointers on becoming more ‘consumer-oriented’. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos preaches the benefits of understanding customers by listening to them, then going all out to serve their needs.[1] Amazon was also among the first to recognise that in the era of social media, one happy customer can spread the word to hundreds, if not thousands, of other potential customers.

2 Embrace digital automation

Digitally automating business processes such as administering enrolments and delivering student support services helps to reduce the biggest expense for any school or university: staffing costs. It can mean fewer staff members are needed to perform certain duties, while improving the speed, accuracy and monitoring of service delivery.

Digital process automation also allows schools and universities to collect valuable data from their interactions with students, families and staff, which can be analysed for insights into the proficiency of administrative and educational functions. This analysis should focus on identifying achieving educational goals, revenue and funding targets, and ways to enhance the student experience.

3 Leverage cloud-based software services

As generations of children and young adults to have lived exclusively within the Internet age, today’s students expect their education provider to have connected, easily accessible services, information and content. These systems should allow them to fulfil necessary administrative processes, access coursework and interact with lecturers and fellow students via mobile devices.

Accordingly, progressive schools and universities are rethinking how they operate, market themselves and deliver key services. This includes examining how they manage their core IT systems – particularly the feasibility of large capital investments in proprietary on-site solutions.

For example, La Trobe and Flinders universities subscribe to cloud-based Software as a Service solutions rather than hosting and managing all their software on-site. This enables them to provide the most up-to-date software and support without the need to regularly ‘rip and replace’ costly on-site implementations. A further advantage is that these systems can be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection, at any time, on any device.

4 Understand the importance of innovation

Educational institutions are frequently brilliant at innovating in research and academia, but less so when it comes to innovating within their businesses. While there is always a risk of missing the mark when trying something new, it must be encouraged to ensure these long-lasting and vital institutions continue to meet the expectations of students, parents, staff and others. Those that do not try to change and take advantage of technology – and especially those that fail to place their student consumers at the centre of their thinking – are most likely to fall behind.



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