Higher Education Challenges: Managing Domestic & International Student Enrolments

Posted by Tribal Group

Student enrolment in higher education has never been easy, but as we head into another busy enrolment period, certain challenges are emerging for admissions teams. 

In our previous blog, we looked at trends in university enrolment that revealed a big shift in numbers with a mixed recovery across ANZ institutions. Now we want to look more closely at four of the key challenges we touched upon — and some possible solutions or next steps your admissions team could take. 

Challenge #1. Juggling Domestic & International Student Quotas

Australia’s international border opened in December 2021, and New Zealand’s in August 2022, bringing with them a new wave of international student applications. This is, of course, good news for ANZ universities. But it also brings new challenges. 

For a start, the shifting volumes of international and domestic students could lead to more complex quota management than previous years. 

Most universities limit the available places for certain course offerings, subjects, and majors. Entry for these programs is generally competitive and not everyone who applies will be accepted even if they meet the entry requirements. In some cases, admissions teams may need to balance the number of international and domestic places on offer across various courses. 

It’s important that admissions teams have information on the current status, and can ensure a fair decision making process. 

The solution to this challenge? A more flexible, agile approach to managing student quotas. For instance, software that displays up-to-date data on student applications and enrollments across each course. 


Challenge #2. Juggling Multiple Systems

Admissions teams need to make decisions based on up-to-date data — and ensure those systems are appropriately recorded, tracked, and communicated. To do this, many teams will need to reference and update multiple systems, such as: 

  • CRMs 
  • Student Information Systems 
  • Admissions/Enrolment Software 
  • Learning Management Systems 
  • Student Support Software 
  • Assessment Software 
  • Accounting/Billing Software 
  • Scholarship/Grant Management Software 
  • Course Registration & Student Timetable Software 
  • Student Experience/Engagement Platforms 
  • Messaging and Communications Apps 
  • Alumni Platforms 
  • Document Management Apps 
  • Form Management Apps 
  • Student ID Generation 
  • Workflows & Task Management Apps 
  • Financial Reporting 
  • Activity Reporting 


In fact, it’s common to find hundreds of tools and apps across the various university departments and offices, each used to manage or interact with students in some way.  

Juggling so many different systems can be overwhelming, especially for new team members that need to learn how each one works. And when the software and data is not integrated properly, it’s inefficient, leads to more work, and leads to inconsistencies between the data.  


Silos: A Widespread Problem in Universities

As a site note, the technology situation rather mirrors higher educations’ tendency towards specialised and siloed administrative and support functions, which brings its own challenges. 


The solution? It’s time for university admissions to enter the digital age and embrace cutting edge tools that ensure efficiency and accuracy. Teams need systems that can talk to each other, and ideally accomplish multiple processes in one place. The more we can reduce the manual data entry side of university enrolments, the more we can lighten the workload for admissions. 

Plus, there’s far more value in the data when it’s interconnected because it can start to tell stories that might help universities solve other problems, like enrolment conversions, student engagement, and dropout rates. 


Challenge #3. Smaller Teams, Bigger Workloads

Of course, it’s also important to consider some of the trends impacting admissions and enrolment teams. The sector introduced various cost cutting and freezing measures in response to COVID-19 and associated drops in revenue. Many universities in ANZ substantially reduced staff numbers, implemented hiring freezes, and offered redundancies. In February 2022, AFR reported that Australian universities had cut an estimated 27,000 jobs due to the pandemic. This year, some universities are continuing to shed staff, with Victoria University calling for 300 voluntary redundancies in June 2023 in order to make significant cost savings.  

And although there’s been a significant bounce back in student numbers, it’s likely that many admissions teams remain smaller than pre-pandemic numbers. Rebuilding and training those teams won't happen overnight, with low unemployment rates and high burnout leading to recruitment challenges throughout the APAC region. Although with rapid staff turnover a common issue for admissions departments, this is a problem many universities will be familiar with. 

Meanwhile, workloads are bigger than ever for many admissions teams. More than ever, students expect an immediate response, 24/7 availability, and multiple touchpoints. And with renewed increases of international students (and associated increased need), more students are requiring a hands-on approach. 

As always, if you need to handle a bigger workload with a smaller team, the right technology can help. Admissions software can ease team workloads — especially if it has the capability to be tailored to specific student markets, such as international and domestic. 


Challenge #4. Turning Enquiries in Enrolments 

If your institution is seeing an increase in enquiries but not a corresponding increase in enrolments, you’re not alone. Many students are dropping off somewhere in the enrolment process, or even after enrolment. There are many possible reasons for this. 

But before we get to those reasons, it’s interesting to consider whether history might be repeating itself because that could provide some clues for what might happen next. 

Looking at trend graphs like this one, it is possible to see parallels between post-GFC and post-COVID across many industries.  

Australian institutions saw a significant drop in enrolments during the pandemic, largely driven by fewer international students. The previous drop in enrolments occurred during 2011-2013, after the global financial crisis, with a significant increase in enrolments each year from 2014-2019. If we follow the same pattern, we can certainly expect university enrolments in Australia to recover again — but it might be a few more years before we reach pre-pandemic levels. 

So, why might that be? There are a number of factors driving the current drop in numbers that universities should be aware of — and ways that marketing and admissions teams can address them. 


Factor What's Happening? Solutions
Higher Work Demand The unemployment rate in mid-2023 was just 3.6% in New Zealand and 3.7% in Australia. With high demand for workers across many industries, more people are able to enter the workforce without needing the edge of competition that further education may have enabled.  Universities should emphasise the benefits of investing in long-term career potential and changing workplace requirements. Focus on how courses equip students with skills and connections they won’t get anywhere else. Also highlight how some students can juggle the demands of work and study. 
Changing Budgets Many prospective students and their families are impacted by the cost of living crisis, which is disproportionately affecting young people. This may lead to more conservative spending on higher education and/or students opting for full-time work instead of study.  Promote various ways students can fund their studies. Again, talk about future earning potential and the potential for part-time work/study arrangements. 
Burnout Studies suggest that average post-pandemic student burnout rates are around 11.4% (a significant increase from pre-pandemic numbers). Some students may be keen for a break from studying after years of disrupted studies or online schooling. Especially if they feel that their university experience might be ‘more of the same’.  Demonstrate the unique benefits of studying at your institution. Emphasise on-campus life, classroom resources, and in-person connection. Talk about flexible and blended options to suit a variety of student needs, as well as various student support options. 
Overwhelm Many students can feel overwhelmed at the prospect of starting at a new institution. Even if they do apply and enrol, they may struggle to show up to class and navigate the logistics, fill out forms, or step into an unfamiliar environment.   Increase students’ certainty and confidence by providing plenty of information about the campus, processes, and what to expect. Provide this info in lots of different formats, such as videos, blogs, checklists, articles, phone calls, meetings, and in-person tours. 



Increasing Reliance on Admissions Software 

Institutions need a way to meet the demand and expectations of prospective students — with fewer staff members onboard. And it’s critical that teams have good systems in place to help track quotas and ensure fair decision making.  

We will continue to see increasing reliance on technology like admissions software to help meet this need. 

Exploring enrolment solutions for your institution? Stay tuned for our future blog where we’ll take you through Tribal’s Student Admissions solution and share some essential features your team should look for in their admissions software. In the meantime, you can check out Tribal Admissions for yourself or reach out to our team to request more information or a demo. 


Looking for better student admissions software? Enable your admissions team to meet student demand and deliver better experiences with Tribal Admissions. 



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