How to grow your specialist or independent HEI: the four challenges you need to overcome


When you think of education you might typically think of schools, colleges and universities. But, there’s another type of institution becoming increasingly attractive to learners - the specialist and independent providers, living somewhere in between the world of colleges and universities and experiencing their own set of challenges.

As Tribal welcomes more and more alternative providers as customers, Kavita Sirpal reflects on her experience helping these institutions implement solid student management software and processes, and the common challenges they face to deliver a great student experience.

1. Get the basic processes in place

Many specialist providers aren’t big enough to warrant a full blown and relatively expensive HE student management system and are finding smaller systems such as Tribal’s ebs can provide all the functionality they need to deliver a great student experience, at a fraction of the cost. However, during implementation we’ve been surprised to find a lack of cohesive processes, restricting their growth.

Some sites have come from using self-developed systems as their main way to manage student data or in some cases spreadsheets, so control and view of the data has been held in the hands of a small core team. ebs provides a complete system which allows student information to be visible to everyone who needs it and triggers sites such as these to begin thinking about better, more efficient processes to suit their needs.

The admissions process is often daunting for specialist providers. Firstly, they need to be able to compete with large universities, often with a small marketing budget. This can be overcome by utilising products such as Tribals engage app to communicate with potential students throughout their application. Secondly, there are often many processes that could be condensed into a single platform for admissions. Having one database that can manage initial enquiry to enrolment saves the institution time, time which can be spent on improving marketing and communication with students during their decision-making process.

2. Align your processes with the right staff

As part of new processes, institutions also need to consider whether they have the right people doing the right job. Bringing in a student management system will streamline and automate processes, freeing up personnel who might have previously had to do tasks manually. Providers may need to reassign personnel in line with the new processes and ask that their staff think outside of their job description to see the bigger picture.

3. Get better visibility of your curriculum

We’ve worked with some institutions whose marketing teams had traditionally managed their curriculum offering through spreadsheets or a CRM, which has limited use when working with curriculum structures and Parent/Child linkages. We focus a lot of time on curriculum and the awards building, as this is one of the areas alternative providers can benefit from. Curriculum management is at the heart of ebs and allows the user to enter the data once and use it many times. However, having data all in one place without being able to visualise the impacts of changes in curriculum is useless. That is why Tribal offer a data visualisation tool alongside the core system so that staff can identify issues in their delivery ahead of time.

Once the data is created in ebs, all staff can see exactly how a learner is progressing, their timetable, their attendance and their assessment results.

4. Create effective integrations

We’ve seen how tight funding and therefore staff resource can be for this group of institutions, with teams often much smaller in comparison to colleges and universities. To help alleviate this, institutions often seek opportunities to integrate with other systems such as finance and Canvas.

Integration can be a difficult process and it takes collaboration between both customer and supplier to ensure the best possible process is created to minimise the requirements of both systems to supply data. However, if done right the benefits of integrated processes can significantly reduce the amount of time taken to perform data management tasks.

5. Ensure efficient statutory reporting

In some cases, these institutions are governed by their university partners and others are by the constraints of HESA. Therefore having a robust system that can handle reporting requirements is key to continuing to be successful in this market. Tribal’s student management systems were born out of the requirement to have all data centrally stored to ensure holistic reporting on an institution’s provision.

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