Want to improve the student experience? Stop working in departmental silos

Janine Chasmer
Janine Chasmer

The downfalls of a scattered system

When student information is scattered across different faculties and departments – each with their unique processes and systems – creating a smooth and cohesive student experience can feel impossible.

Not only do the systems used fail to integrate and speak to one another effectively, but often the staff using them do as well. This often leads to vital information getting lost, allowing student data, engagement, and experience to all slip through the cracks.

Why student experience suffers

With student information being difficult to access or find, efforts to improve the student experience tend to be limited in scope and scale, often leaving student representatives to battle for improvement on a case-by-case basis, rather than being able to tackle problems by the root cause. It’s more a case of catching up, trying to mend what’s already broken, than it is of meeting outlined targets, particularly when chasing data from people scattered all over campus has become the norm.

As such, the inefficiencies and frustration caused by department silos can completely undo any good that comes out of focussed efforts to improve student experience made by staff tasked with listening to the student voice and using it to boost numbers. This can leave those working on student satisfaction feeling anxious, with little they can do to protect their own measurable performance.

How the university suffers as a result

Those responsible for student experience are really battling a generalised lack of communication, with disjointed information systems limiting the number of cross-disciplinary, intra-departmental perspectives being shared. This, in turn, places greater onus on student experience managers to come up with solutions to student dissatisfaction without proper context. Indeed, without the data and input required for true innovation, it’s practically impossible to drive impactful, widespread engagement.

The challenges curtailing change

After researching and reporting on the importance of student engagement for the past twenty years, Gallup has found that higher student engagement consistently leads to more positive results. For instance, students will demonstrate higher productivity, lower absenteeism, and higher-quality work worthy of reputation-boosting grades – provided they feel integrated, supported and satisfied with service.

In a siloed system, however, it’s difficult to maximise the university’s available resources, making it challenging to deliver in line with student expectations. And to make matters worse, the long-standing structures and legacy systems that faculties and departments still cling to are difficult to navigate for both new starters and students alike who aren’t already familiar with university life.

This ultimately leads to a complex and disappointing student experience – once again undoing any efforts to transform student life for the better.

The search for a solution

The simple solution seems to be asking different faculties, services and departments to work together as one. Nevertheless, most departmental managers are against this, as it adds to an already-busy work life. In 2021, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 55% of faculty staff have considered a career change or early retirement as a result of feeling overburdened, so creating even heavier workloads must be avoided.

Partnerships and cross-functional departments don’t always make sense, either – with any resulting goals and actions becoming very vague. Moreover, a lot of effort would need to go into creating and designing new programmes, only to find that students still need to deal with multiple points of contact, confused about who to turn to as a result.

So, what can be done to resolve this problem?

With the average cost of completing an undergraduate degree in the UK estimated at £22,200 per annum, according to the British Council, current ways of operating separately simply aren’t acceptable. Students increasingly demand more from their experience and, when they don’t get it, are more likely to drop out or decide not to follow through with their application. When pushing for change, it’s therefore imperative to show key stakeholders from all departments that the answer – a switch to a more centralised system – can be simple, furthermore emphasising the merits of this approach to ensure that everyone climbs on board.

A centralised solution

A centralised data management system would give students quick and easy access to the information they need, without needing to search across several departments or databases for the right person. Rather than being passed around from pillar to post, they can easily be directed to the staff member they are looking for as soon as they make their request or complaint.

Importantly, this would allow institutions to take back control over the wider student experience, from the initial admissions process through to graduation and beyond. People from all areas of the university would be able to communicate fluidly and come together to access and utilise the information they need at the drop of the hat. Ultimately, this makes for a fast and responsive service that ensures students feel seen, heard, safe and supported.

The change would be achieved by establishing full visibility over all student touchpoints, in addition to collecting and analysing direct feedback from students to establish their true worries and concerns. By saving everything in one convenient, centralised, and accessible system, it’s easy to deliver the appropriate solution in response.

As a result, student voice representatives would be able to truly listen to and act upon the real student voice, rather than conversations being dominated by stakeholders across various departments – who are far removed from the student experience and don’t necessarily understand the correlation between meeting student needs and expectations and meeting their own departmental objectives and goals.

Ultimately, as the Higher Education landscape becomes increasingly competitive it’s time to champion clear communication to truly strengthen the student voice and create an outstanding student experience for all; where the integration of a centralised solution that eliminates the inefficiencies created by department silos and replaces it with cohesion, productivity and engagement is an excellent place to start.

Does your Higher Education institution suffer from department silos? Contact a member of the Equantiis team today to arrange an initial consultation and see how we can help.

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More about the author

Janine Chasmer
Janine Chasmer - Principal Consultant

Janine’s career includes 10 years in the not-for-profit sector, specifically within membership, and she leverages her industry expertise and first-hand experience with a wider range of clients, including Membership and Charity, where she provides consultancy on a range of areas including Business Strategy, Customer Experience improvement and process optimisation. In recent years, Janine has applied these consulting skills to the Education sector, supporting HE and FE institutions to improve their applicant and student experience at key phases such as application, enrolment, Clearing and progression. Other projects include Digital and Data Strategy, process and automation, and Student Journey optimisation. She has also worked as a SRM Functional Consultant, using this unique insight of both sector knowledge, and enabling technology to achieve transformational outcomes. Janine is also a regular event speaker and creates and shares industry and sector insights with her network.