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What does a superior educational experience look like from the student perspective?

When it comes to provision of an exceptional educational experience, every student interaction carries weight and contributes to an overall impression. For higher education providers to thrive in an era of enrolment-based funding, understanding what today’s student looks for — and delivering on it — are increasingly important.

A new study has revealed that Australian university students overwhelmingly expect engagement with their higher education provider to be seamless and conducted largely online. The study makes clear that from the admission process onward, higher education providers hoping to build long-lasting student relationships must tailor their offering and build processes and procedures that meet the needs of a digitally savvy audience.

The study, titled ‘What do students want from their university experience?’, surveyed over 1,000 currently enrolled students across Australia to uncover the expectations and pain points of those undertaking tertiary education in 2019.

The survey sought student opinions on a range of topics including assessment of degrees and courses on offer, learning mode preferences, institutional loyalty, enrolment and administration practices, and the role of technology in delivering a superior higher education experience.

Given this generation’s propensity for change, developing a longer-term view that defines and delivers an exceptional educational experience should be a sector-wide priority for educational institutions

Enrolment issues

Straight out of the gate, many students identified issues with the registration process at their university. When asked to describe their enrolment experience, 75 per cent of students experienced challenges - ranging from ‘minor’ to ‘unmanageable without university intervention’.

For a generation born and raised in the digital age, cumbersome paper-based processes or non-intuitive online options are a deal-breaker. Study participants were specifically asked about the importance of having access to self-managed enrolment and administration online. Only three percent of respondents categorised this as ‘not important’, meaning a remarkable 97 per cent of survey participants expect to be given control over their own enrolment and other administrative functions via some form of online tool or facility.

Consistency the key

Administration is only one element of the online capability demanded by this technology-driven group. The study asked students to nominate the importance of online access to their course resources and materials from anywhere, at any time, on any device — including phone, tablet, PC or smart TV.

Again, an overwhelming majority declared this to be an important feature of the higher education landscape in 2019. Only two per cent of students are unconvinced about ubiquitous access to information, nominating this as ‘not important’.

When 98 per cent of the student body signals a preference for broad online access backed by self-managed administration capability — and almost 70 per cent declare it vital to their educational experience — it’s probably worthwhile listening.

The study showed that students falling into the millennial and Gen Z cohort expect a consistent student experience across all touchpoints and interactions — 34 per cent said it was very important and a further 32 per cent declared it extremely important. This becomes even more noteworthy when considered in the context of a lifelong relationship that spans multiple degrees.

Like it, or leave it

In keeping with a common criticism levelled at this generation — today’s students are not afraid to move on if they feel unsatisfied, unfulfilled or disengaged. More than half (54 per cent) said they would consider switching universities in order to use better levels of technology and innovation. Nearly 50 per cent said they would attend multiple universities at one time if subjects could be consolidated and credited to one degree.

This again is pertinent information when you consider so many tertiary institutions are goaled with maintaining a life-long learning relationship with a student, one that traverses their undergraduate, postgraduate, masters and ‘mid-life career switch’ or passion projects.

Today’s students are under substantial financial pressure relative to preceding generations. While baby boomers enjoyed free tertiary education and access to cheap housing stock and finance, millennials and Gen Z will commence careers with significant debt and little hope of entering the property market in the short term. No wonder they’re willing to flex their muscles when it comes to institutional loyalty, or apparent lack thereof.

Given this generation’s propensity for change, developing a longer-term view that defines and delivers an exceptional educational experience — while meeting student expectation — should be a sector-wide priority for educational institutions.

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