Responding to students' changing needs with UNIT-e

Alan Meechan, Development Manager at Edinburgh College, explains how UNIT-e has helped them to deliver a much more efficient way to manage online applications.

More than 26,000 students come from across the city and surrounding areas to study at Edinburgh College each year. With 96% of successful full-time graduates moving on to work or further study within eight months, it has an enviable reputation for quality FE and HE provision. With 4 campuses spread across the city, the college is one of the largest in Scotland, offering around 700 academic and vocational courses.

Previously, managing records through the application and enrolment process was a major challenge as there were two separate systems in place. This resulted in the duplication of data and mismatches if changes to a student record were not reflected across both systems. Staff had many manual work arounds to meet students’ ever-changing requirements too and the need to re-key information added to the risk of error. The college wanted to overhaul its online application system so that information could be stored in one place, providing a much more joined-up experience for students and making it easier for staff to process applications and enrolments efficiently.

Joined-up data

One of the challenges of having multiple applications systems was the time it took to make changes, as Alan explains, “Previously, we had to wait for an external party to make crucial changes, such as adjustments to an application form or changes to the course handling process. This could cause delays.”

Having a separate system for online applications also meant that information couldn’t be shared easily between key staff within the college, which slowed the student recruitment process down. The college wanted a much slicker experience for students applying online, which would also help staff to work more efficiently to meet their needs. So, Education Software Solutions (ESS) was called in to help.

A trusted partner

ESS was mission critical to making the college’s vision a reality. Working closely with UNIT-e Consultant, Tony Butler, the college’s skilled IT development team designed and implemented the UNIT-e online application system, which went live for the 2019/20 admissions cycle.

The new system links directly to the student record system, eliminating the need to manually move data and enabling staff to share information instantly and securely across campuses. This has speeded up the whole enrolment process for students and increased student application numbers. “Both staff and students have been involved in the design of the application system and this was key to the success of the project,” says Alan.

“Tony’s expertise and guidance has helped us get maximum benefit from the new tools available and we’ve seen a positive impact across the college. Before, staff could only collect payments once an applicant’s details had been exported from the old applications system into UNIT-e. Now, payments for course fees and equipment can be processed instantly, so managing cash flow is much simpler.”

Improving the student experience

Now, when a student visits the website, they have access to the latest information and can find and apply for courses quickly and easily via a PC, smartphone or other mobile device. All relevant information is stored in one place too, so staff can process applications more quickly than was possible before, helping to ensure students get an offer of a place sooner and improving their overall experience.

“With ESS’s help, we have delivered a much more efficient way to manage online applications and students have been really positive about how easy it is to find the information they need,” says Rena Cowan, Student Experience Manager.

Seamless applications and enrolments

Staff now have a much clearer picture of which courses being viewed on the website progress through to applications. They can get useful feedback on students’ experience when applying online too due to the new system’s improved tracking capability and online feedback tools.

Heather MacBain, Marketing Manager, adds, “We can now track applicants from their first engagement with advertising on social media or Google, right through to their application submission and monitor marketing return on investment. This helps us really understand our applicant’s behaviour and see what activity is most effective at boosting applications. It will change the way the team operates for years to come.” 

Alan continues, “Operational staff no longer have to go looking for the information they need to do their jobs effectively. They can now access it from a single dashboard. Those responsible for enrolments can quickly see how many applications have come in, which need to be processed and how many students have been offered a place. It means decisions can be made more quickly to improve conversion rates and applicant retention.”

Meeting students’ needs

Another advantage of the new online application system is that it is easily accessible to external stakeholders such as schools, which Edinburgh College has close relationships with.

 “We offer a number of courses that secondary school students can apply for before they leave school. Now, school staff have a unique login so they can help students applying for a college course online by attaching critical information to their application, such as details of any special educational needs. This information is then flagged and made instantly available to our student services team, who can ensure the necessary support is put in place as early as possible.”

Early indications suggest that the college has seen an uplift in student numbers for the 2019/20 admissions cycle. As Alan concludes, “Working alongside our own IT development team, ESS has become a trusted partner with the skills to help us ensure we have an integrated UNIT-e solution for managing online applications and enrolments for the months and years ahead.”