About the college
West Lothian College is a further and higher education institution in Scotland offering a wide range of courses to over 9,000 students. Its vision is to develop a highly skilled, enterprising, and resilient workforce.
The college is a medium-sized college in Scotland and attracts nearly 75% of its students from the local area in subjects ranging from early years to health and social care, business to art, cyber studies, construction, automotive, and engineering. The college delivers a large volume of work-based vocational qualifications.
Digitising the student journey
The college has strong values in embracing equality, diversity, and inclusion. It strives to put their students at the heart of everything it does and is committed to continuous improvement. It is these core college values that drive the work that is carried out by the MIS team, led by Information Systems Manager, Tom Thomson. When Tom arrived at the college in 2018, there were over 8,000 paper enrolments on an annual basis. It has been his objective since then to find ways for the majority of college processes and interactions with students to be made electronic. He says; “When I started at the college, MIS tasks were either keyed manually from forms or uploaded through Excel spreadsheets. Slowly but surely, our team has been working to improve and, where possible, digitise our processes. This involves prioritising what our biggest challenges and pain points are and seeing what can be done quickly and cost effectively to remedy them, always taking into account what is technically and financially viable.”
The team started small with their changes, looking at things that would bring the most impact to their day to day. One change the team made after a suggestion by Head of Customer Success at UNIT-e, Francis McLaughlan, which “had quite a significant impact at no real cost” was improved business intelligence and management reporting. This involved connecting Power BI to UNIT-e allowing the college to see accurate real-time visualisations of their data.
In January 2019, the team set about improving the enrolment process for students using UNIT-e’s Online Services module. After testing, the two-part enrolment system went live that summer and 35% of enrolments for all students were successfully completed online. At the time part-time courses were still paper-based. Their next task was to move to digitising these courses. Luckily, they did this ahead of the Covid pandemic - as Tom describes “our 2020-21 applications process was not that much affected as prospective students could apply and enrol online”. In fact, the team was very busy during the first few months of the pandemic, investing in more consultancy with UNIT-e to improve their Staff Advantage module.
The impact of digital admissions
The impact of using digital to support many of the college’s processes can be felt positively across both the staff and student bodies. Previously, there were lots smaller tasks like resetting students’ passwords to the applications tool, which were a burden on administrative staff. Now, things like this can be quickly and easily resolved by using improved digital processes. Tom says, “As a medium-sized college with fewer staff than larger institutions, we are always looking at how to do things differently and better for our students and staff.”
Tom and his team worked closely with the UNIT-e Professional Services team to develop a two-part process combining student application and enrolment. The process involves asking students for more data upfront at the time when they apply for a course and has dramatically increased conversion rates. Tom explains that “students go through the process in one pass. While we had some initial hurdles, for example, making sure we were being GDPR compliant, and some constructive feedback that the form takes longer to complete, all in all, the process has made such a difference.” Since December 2022, the team have been refining the process by adding things like a ‘Save Progress’ button and improving the user experience and mobile interactions.
The process has allowed the college to see where students drop off the application journey, which supports the marketing team with their engagement and keep warm activities. Tom says, “It also underpins our work with local feeder schools as we can see who is applying and coordinate with the school on supporting their application.” The added benefit is that staff now have a longer period for assisting those applying and enrolling to college. Nowadays, the college accepts applications between January and August and up to 70% of enrolments come through online. According to Tom, this helps to “spread the workload and offers a more positive application experience” for the student as they only need to complete the process once.
Working with UNIT-e
The college regularly works closely with the Professional Services team and they are currently working on two projects together. The first is to look at how to better manage the enquiries, enrolments, and payments for SVQ work-based qualifications to take the percentage of digital validated enrolments up to over 90%. The second is a project with UNIT-e Consultant, Alex Richards, to help inform and develop workflows in key areas such as replacing the use of Microsoft Forms for withdrawal requests, simplifying student transfers, and streamlining how student offers are managed. Tom says, “We have a never-ending list of tasks to make things better for students and staff and are always keen to explore the next step towards digital transformation.”
With regards to working alongside UNIT-e to deliver on these tailored projects, Tom is confident that the team has the required skills and best practice to support the college in this transformation. He says, “UNIT-e have worked in the sector for years, they know it well and they work hard to help solve our challenges. Working with the Professional Services team is like working with colleagues rather than suppliers – the team understand our college and where we are trying to get to, and they have the technical skills to deliver. There is a real culture and camaraderie working with them.”