Heriot-Watt: How student recruitment gets done at a truly global university
Jan 22 | 7 minutes read
As any campus administrator would know, the challenges of running a global university in an ever-evolving digital world are multifold.
Despite growing global appetite for internationalisation in higher education, satellite or branch campuses come with added financial and reputational risks to the parent institution.
In addition to identifying the most lucrative ownership model and navigating vastly different social, political and regulatory environments, a major challenge for universities is streamlining recruitment and admissions processes.
Not only must they meet the unique requirements of each individual market, they must cater to the needs of each applicant and operate across different time zones, all while adhering to a single, global standard set by the home campus.
An application filled out from Malaysia, for example, should not be subjected to an eight-hour wait time for submission and processing in the UK. Any delay could lead to the applicant losing interest, the biggest fear of every institution operating in today’s pressure cooker higher education environment.
Heriot-Watt University is no stranger to these challenges.
The university manages five campuses that span over three continents, from its Scottish home in Edinburgh to Dubai on the Arabian Peninsula and Malaysia in the heart of Southeast Asia.
At Heriot-Watt, being a global university means students can start their education journey at one campus but finish in another, with the university facilitating the transition.
Managing this can be challenging given the different policy landscape and student needs at each campus. But, as Heriot-Watt knew, it’s an attractive offering to students wanting a global education experience, and certainly a great tool for international student recruitment.
For this to work, recruitment and admissions across all five campuses must come together seamlessly, and an always-on, 360-degree view of all campus activities is mission critical.
It also means all administrative systems at the university must work cohesively, rather than independently of one another – and they must operate in real-time.
As part of a campus-wide multi-year revitalisation programme, Heriot-Watt turned to Ellucian’s cloud-based CRM Recruit.
3 continents, 1 system
Paul Travill is Heriot-Watt’s academic registrar. Having spent over 25 years in academic administration, Paul knows student experience is to higher education what customer experience is to commercial businesses – critical to institutional success.
His experience in higher education also means he knows what technology solutions there are in the market that can help the university find success.
To meet Heriot-Watt University’s global admissions needs, he says, Ellucian CRM Recruit checked all the boxes and more.
“CRM Recruit just stood out as being the most modern effective application system we could find.
“We were really keen to find an admissions system that’s really adapted to cope with different needs in different countries but still meet the Heriot-Watt need of actually having simple, standard processes that were effective and able to manage our data in a far better way than we were able to perform,” he says.
“It was very clear that Ellucian’s CRM Recruit solution was on the leading edge compared with anything else we had seen, and its functionality meant that it sold itself. In the demonstrations it immediately appeared applicant friendly – so easy to use and the implementation has proved this to be true,” he adds.
A global university that meets local admissions needs
Ellucian CRM Recruit rolled out at Heriot-Watt’s Malaysia campus within nine months from tender to launch. Three months later, the university put the system live at its Dubai and Edinburgh campuses.
A seamless transition, the system has completely transformed recruitment and admissions at Heriot-Watt in a number of ways.
#1: A system that never sleeps
Between its campuses, the university has staff working 18 hours a day, six days a week. This means the admissions system must be live for at least 18 hours at a time, from the start of the day in Malaysia to the end of the day in Scotland, every Sunday through to Friday (Dubai operates from Sunday to Thursday while Malaysia and Scotland run from Monday to Friday).
As a cloud-based solution, Ellucian CRM Recruit is able to meet this need – 24-hours a day, seven days a week. University staff out in the field at recruitment fairs or other events can easily log into the system to process an application no matter where they are.
With upgrades managed by Ellucian and delivered through the cloud, this immediately removes any delay or time constraints from the admissions process, a critical factor in ensuring applicants progress through the system quickly and efficiently.
#2: A simpler online application process
The system has also made developing an online application form much easier and straightforward.
According to Paul, by using contextual data to drive questions specific to the applicant’s country of origin or to their programme of choice, the university was able to significantly reduce the number of forms it previously used for applications.
Reducing these complexities means a more user-friendly process for the applicant, which bodes well for the university, especially as it has to deal with a vastly dispersed global student cohort.
#3: Understanding what works, what doesn’t & why
Much like how an e-tailer might gently nudge an online shopper who adds items to a shopping cart but doesn’t complete the transaction, Ellucian CRM Recruit gives the institution visibility of applications that never got submitted.
With this, Heriot-Watt is able to target these applicants to understand why they did not complete the application and if they might need help with it or further information. Rather than lose them completely, the university is able to uncover problems in the process and target the right resources to convert admissions queries into applicants.
Are student prospects confused about specific information on the university’s website? Are they confused about a particular course offering? Understanding where applicants are falling off in the admissions process can be very valuable to the university’s IT and even marketing teams.
In addition, Ellucian CRM Recruit also allows the institution to gather data on application process times, enabling it to look into areas that might be slowing things down and how to improve that.
Reports generated through the system also provide the university the ability to study the recruitment patterns of each campus, with key insights that could go towards informing future recruitment strategies.
#4: A truly integrated global application service
Having a global application service allows Heriot-Watt to advance its global university mission.
A student facing difficulties applying for a visa to study at one of its campuses can instead be given a place at another campus; Ellucian CRM Recruit helps enable this.
The integrated document management functions within CRM Recruit also helps the university manage applicant data more effectively, Paul Travill says.
“Previously we would have received supporting documentation by post or e-mail, which then had to be matched up by staff with the application,” he explains.
“CRM Recruit does this for us, so all staff responsible for the decision-making can access the correct information online.”
The system also gives applicants more control of the application process, allowing them to track offers made, respond online and even book preferences for visit days. If a referee has not submitted a reference, applicants can chase them up via email or suggest a new referee.
These features reduce the administrative burden on the university, allowing staff more time to handle other, more important aspects of admissions, and substantially boosting the applicant experience.
Finally, having a single admissions system also means every campus can assist with processing applications, regardless of where they are. A campus overloaded with applications, for example, could tap other campuses for help.
A world-renowned global university
Heriot-Watt’s technology investments are paying off.
Today, the institution has carved a name for itself on the international stage as a truly global university.
Of its 30,000-strong student body, only 11,000 study in its Edinburgh home base, while the remaining two-thirds are at its campuses in Malaysia and Dubai or studying online. The university also boasts a vast network of education partners in 150 countries worldwide.
In recognition of its internationalisation efforts, the university was crowned ‘International University of the Year’ in the Times and Sunday Times’ Good University Guide 2018. It is also ranked 35th in the UK in the Complete University Guide and sits among the top 300 in Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings.
An uber-efficient admissions system will help Heriot-Watt continue to hold pole position on these league charts.
As the university continues to modernise every aspect of academic and student administration, the system will adapt and grow with it, without adding further stress on institutional resources.
Most importantly, the system will help Heriot-Watt University smash annual global recruitment targets and win on student experience, two critical survival needs of institutions, especially at a time of heightened competition.