Conference Round-Up, APAC HE Fest 2016 - full version

Last updated: 07/02/2019

Every year, we bring together our customers in the Asia Pacific region to showcase our technology products, provide a wealth of insightful guest keynote speakers and, of course, have a lot of fun. This year, the conference badged HE Fest, was no exception…

Delegates travelled from far and wide across the APAC region, to arrive in the beautiful location of Queenstown, New Zealand - our spot for the two-day festivities. Aside a stunning turquoise blue lake and framed by the generous mountains of the Remarkable and Coronet peaks, the delegation had chance to soak in the delightful view over a Hokey Pokey ice cream (a local delicacy!) and network with other HE providers from across New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia.

Tribal's Managing Director for Higher Education, Jon Baldwin opened the conference with a warm welcome to the delegation and a look at the landscape in global HE today, here's what Jon had to say on the challenging times in HE…

"Tribal is so proud to be working with 800 universities worldwide, and know, in depth, the global education challenges they face. And indeed, these are challenging times. Fees and funding is informing - and some might say dictating - activity around the world.

In the US, we're seeing students accrue loans with eye watering numbers - making costs in the UK appear reasonable in comparison. Costs, more than ever are beginning to be scrutinised - with greater emphasis on how you might measure the value.

The teaching excellence framework in the UK looks to measure quality, with proposals centring on designation as gold, silver or bronze… and only if you are designated gold can you increase your tuition fees - but even with this attempt to flatten out quality measures - what about the capacity of individuals to pay? HE institutions in the UK are still reeling in the wake of the Brexit result. As a sector, HE expected a "remain" result and as such, universities felt the result and its implications keenly. UK universities have perhaps begun to question their worth in the debate and remain in a confused and curious state.

In South Africa, we are seeing significant student protests. We see individuals being killed whilst protesting about student fees - two people died in a stampede when simply trying to enrol. There have even been hostage situations, whereby senior university staff have been held as a sign of how desperately those looking to study want to be heard.

In New Zealand, the productivity commission report offered significant challenge to the sector. Comments were made about institutions being self-interested instead of a support to the New Zealand economy. Costs are still high and the migration of New Zealand graduates is affecting the repayments of loans, despite the threat of an impending arrest on their return to the country.

What we're seeing globally though is a real increase in internationalisation. Australia has a joined up international approach; what they offer as a marketing effort is better than that offered by, for example, the UK which exhibits a more fragmented approach to mobility, recruitment and the international experience. We have seen a similar push in New Zealand to extoll the benefits of living, working and studying in the region.

The game is changing too. Higher Education is very much at centre stage around the world and the sector is opening up to new players. Inventor, James Dyson is to open The Dyson University working with the University of Warwick, UK. Existing universities are also building, there's a growth in new real estate, and investment maintenance in older legacy buildings. Is this appropriate in a digital world?

In Europe, there has also been falling public investment, particularly in the more state lead and controlled countries.

All across the world we've been trying to widen participation, for HE to be accessible to all. That said, globally, we are failing, there is still significant under representation even after 20 years of trying.

Newspaper 'The Australian' quoted our Keynote speaker, Ian Marshman as saying "It's not how much money that matters, it's how you spend it". And we can think of no better quote that sums up the challenges currently facing the world's Higher Education systems."

After the insightful introduction to the global challenges in HE, conference keynote speaker, Ian Marshman from the University of Melbourne, addressed the delegation with a keynote on Higher Education opening with "It's a challenging time in HE, but also there has never been a more exciting time."

Ian talked about how HE has become genuinely globalised and that universities are very much part of regional and national economies now, particularly impacting on migration and workforce movement and development.

Ian also spoke about the shaping of national and international agendas, with European countries celebrating success. For example, the German government consolidated research excellence to just a few universities, and in France some of the major universities are teaching courses in English - a profound step change.

In Australia, Higher Education is celebrated as the third biggest export industry (behind Iron Ore and coal - and ahead of tourism and gas). The state of Victoria even changed its licence plate tagline from 'stay alert, stay alive', to 'The Education State.'

Competition in HE is international now, Ian continued. The UK, US, Singapore…are all key competitors to the Australian and New Zealand HE sectors, it's not just state to state competition in Australia anymore. As such, universities are having to build and operate global brands and build partnerships and relationships with other countries (China and Asia, etc.) with robust promotion strategies, linkages with other universities, and become properly globally relevant.

The 21st century business model in Australia is a simple model. It's the quality of the research output that drives national and international standing. For better or worse that drives student flow. Also, Ian explained, research infrastructure funding is below 20 cents in the dollar - so you have to channel surplus from fees to flood into research in order to grow it.

Ian continued, in New Zealand there's a more 'sophisticated' model. The quality of the academic staff who generate the research are the key to it - it's them that drives student flow. There is a huge significance attached to rankings. Rankings are important - but it’s the issues that drive rankings that are more so. Growing seems to have a major impact on research rankings. With increasing prominence from European rankings etc., how do you sustain position? How do you remain at the top? The headlines will only focus on slips! With scale increasing (threatened by the way that teaching and learning is delivered which will impact) students are more and more demanding fair value for money. How large can universities be and still offer the same kind of student experience? What happens if somebody finds a globally relevant indicator that affects teaching and learning? All these are questions HE is currently asking itself.

Ian discussed the gradual decline in the funding of discretionary programmes such research training - a long term trend in his view. But this is leading to a more public spirited approach rather than an expectation for public funding - with a public mission to do public good.

"And of course, there are real opportunities here - such as reduced back office costs - The University of Melbourne made savings of around 16% from within its professional services function. Undertaking benchmarking exercises suggests there's still a 20 - 25% gap in efficiency between the most efficient and the least efficient universities… this is something we can do right now", Ian enthused.

The HE sector is seemingly impervious to digital disruption. Few new entrants have actually disrupted the model… take MOOCS, Seek, Kaplan etc. The sector seems to absorb the shocks but the campus based model of HE remains firmly in place. Digital revolution will inevitably occur as consumer driven changes influence the way we recruit, the experience students want and the graduation process.

“Undertaking benchmarking exercises suggests there’s still a 20-25% gap between the most and least efficient universities”

Ian Marshman, University of Melbourne

Ian spoke to the delegation about the transformation he sees occurring with the permeability between the experience in universities and in the world of work. With a focus on career outcomes, and not just 'jobs', it requires a change in thinking at universities and the way students engage with industry will also need to change to be meaningful and to build the bridge between study and career. Ian said, "The world of work is changing, 50% of our students will have to create their own career rather than just going into employment.'

Also ever changing are the mind-sets of the next generation. With the millennials - the experience needs to meet expectations. HE institutions need to be a 24/7 learning community, and the campus experience is as an increasingly important component, with student life programs being offering to increase the value of university life to its students.

The staff within a university also need to be transformative. Teaching and learning models are being turned on their heads - flipping the classroom with configured rooms based on the course type to engage the students in a different way alongside the professionalisation of academic services and with professionals in all areas from administrative roles to academic running core business activity.

Ian concluded his keynote, "Tribal really is actually empowering the world of education. It's a long journey, it can be challenging, expensive and can need a lot of change management. But it's exciting and much needed."

“Tribal really is actually empowering the world of education”

Ian Marshman, University of Melbourne

Following on from Ian Marshman, Kate Thorpe, Portfolio Manager at Monash University, spoke to the delegation about Monash's Student Maps project and the journey they took to create a tool that puts students at the heart of their studies.

Monash and Tribal had worked together on the Student Maps project in April 2015 with the aim of putting the students (addressed as customers and treated like students) first. Getting the students / customers on board in a practical way, was vital to understanding their needs. Therefore Monash employed students on their payroll as casual staff to help plan the student experience. Pleasingly, the learners said learning was their number one priority, but they also said they wanted a service that is intuitive, a personal and tailored online service and of course, ultimately student success. Students also said they wanted to check their student map on their mobile phone but ultimately want the big picture on their bigger screen.

Kate discussed the complexities of student success, which has many layers, with each department viewing success differently. For example Marketing might ask 'how many leads did we get at an event?', but Admissions might query 'how can I make applications as easy as possible?'

What Monash and Tribal have created is a self-service tool for staff and students to plan out their learning and see that all important 'bigger picture'. The tool goes further though, by also having an analytic functionality that allows staff to ask the questions in their areas to see what success looks like. Kate said "Typically, people don’t plan more than a semester ahead but we're starting to see people use the student maps tool to plan to the end of their degree. We will start to know what they are thinking of studying and when… that's potentially 50 hours saved if you can reduce multiple 15 minute conversations with people that don’t really need to happen, once students can self-service."

Kate concluded, "The partnership with Tribal works very very well and we're hoping it continues."

“Potentially 50 hours saved with student maps self-service – each year”

Kate Thorpe, Monash University

Following on from the morning keynotes, the delegates took a moment to enjoy the fresh air beside the lake and to talk to each other, and to Tribal staff, about all things HE.

The conference breakout sessions provided practical advice, hints and tips and the latest updates on both the SITS:Vision product suite and the Callista product suite. In one of the first breakout sessions, Alan Su, Senior Consultant at Tribal (specialising in SITS:Vision and Student Information Desk), talked to delegates about the changes in the way customers can brand their eVision web portal making it easier to customise.

After a spot of lunch, it was back into the main session, where James Oakley, Product Manager at Tribal posed the question: How do you define student success?

James spoke about how learning analytics provide information, patterns, causes of trends, and importantly, suggestions on how to make a difference to predicted outcomes. He talked about the analytics tools needed to influence student success and how the application of data can help you to intervene - now in a time when you can make a positive difference - rather than retrospectively.

For example, universities in the US are market leaders when it comes to student analytics, they can predict the outcomes of their plans with years of results data. The New York Institute of Technology was able to predict that 1/3 of students would drop out, which they did, their next step however, was to have an effective intervention plan in place to try and reduce that prediction.

At Edith Cowan University in Australia, analytics helped them to create a probability of retention score so they are able to improve student experience, student support and identify the students most likely to need support. At the University of New England, learning analytics is also part of a wider ecosystem of engagement with students.

A study at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, identified that some learners saw their engagement improve and were more engaged when staff used learning analytics to help shape learning and experience. Importantly, the study also found that students were actually confused - students expected the universities to be doing learning analytics activities for years. When asked about learning analytics 89% of students said it was a positive experience for their university to be taking such a proactive stance. 74% said it improved their motivation and knowing there was a problem helped them to understand where they needed to improve.

James said "Using analytics you need to be aware of the barriers. The quality of data (as different sources will have different quality and reliability), location and ownership of data (do people actually want you to do it), knowing what your objectives are (what does success look like), and knowing what you want to know (what's your definition of success), are all important factors that you need to consider if you don’t want to be left with a heap of unfathomable data."

“89% of students think learning analytics is a positive for HE”

James Oakley, Tribal

At Tribal, we understand the reediness of institutions to understand how well the university will begin to except learning analytics. We then investigate the drivers and understand what you're looking to do. Inform set up data pipeline to give live predictions of the current students, but then how can people use that information to effectively make a real difference.

Tribal's Managing Director for Product, Barbara Staruk took to the stage to discuss Tribal's product strategy.

Opening, Barbara said "The market is evolving as must our SIS."

Speaking on the sector as a whole, Barbara explained "There's a need for better insight into students - to keep them, to help them succeed, to give a great student experience. To drive efficiency. We need to drive engagement and make a continuous dialogue with students. And of course, retention is key - if you lose a student in the first year you never fill that slot again - and will likely loose income. Our product strategy is about driving the best success for that student. Going beyond the four walls of the university."

"Wouldn’t it be great if there was the one place where we can access every bit of education we've ever done? Where I can access my achievements? What about alumni management? What about marketing? How do we actually attract the right students? Tribal is well positioned to deliver this functionality. We are adding value so that the systems you have today add value to you every day."

"Our customers are saying "help me, tell me what to do, drive my best practise". Our goal is to drive database independence and get to a common technology layer that is of course stable, reliable and future proof."

“Wouldn’t it be great if there was one place where we can access every bit of learning we’ve ever done?”

Barbara Staruk, Tribal

James Oakley stepped onto the stage once again to talk about student relationship management. "Relationships are about people not systems. It's about student relationship management - not your traditional CRM."

James went on to talk about the drivers within the HE recruitment space. With increasing competition, by 2020 China will have reversed its model of exporting students and focus on inbound international students, so we need some way of understanding who our buyers are. Efficiency tends not to be about finance but more about driving satisfaction and helping the student experience. Students don’t want to talk via email, students now have never lived in a world without Google - the consumption of information is key to them and it has to be what they are expecting i.e. targeted and non-intrusive. If they haven't already, providers need to shift towards a student centric strategy, asking themselves, is it REALLY what the student wants? Or is it what the institutions want? Processes need to be quicker, they need to be personal, and providers need to look at how the students and staff consume information and communicate with it.

How can we help? Tribal provides one system, one place, and one identity - reducing siloed data as data can be available anywhere. James explained, "Current CRM solutions tend to be point solutions… trying to get all data together in one place is difficult. Identity management is so important. Students can't easily remember their credentials and have to submit lots of different email addresses just to access a system. We are offering a more reliable process… people don’t want to fill in forms - we get it - we're more comfortable using our social media logins to bypass sign in using emails."

We've put students at the heart of the solution. SRM helps institutions to monitor student activity and interactions at all touch points. It can help to match the right students to the right courses in the right institutions. The system is also able to suggest the packages needed for each student application. Essentially, it's an integrated communications platform. It involves social media, email, SMS, real time chat functions. Invitations, surveys, open days, interviews and events, and tracks all engagement with the student and the provider.

James concluded by saying "The University of London had 27 points of communication going out from the moment the student enquired through to their application stage - the students read very few of those communication points. What was on the first two lines on the email depended on whether someone actually read it. Now, they've cut down all those communications points and focused on the types of communication which students responded to better, and of course, they had a better result and were more efficient."

Closing the conference was Dr Cate Gribble, a senior research fellow at RMIT who spoke to the delegation about the trends in learning abroad.

Dr Gribble became interested in international research whilst volunteering in Guatemala. Most recently she has been doing work around international graduates in the labour market and employability. Looking at students from emerging economies who travel to developed nations to complete their studies.

Dr Gribble spoke about the fact that international education is now seen as a stepping stone to permanent migration as an international degree holds cache for better employment opportunities. She also spoke about the cross cultural awareness, global issues, government issues, and the connection between mobility and employability.

You can read the interview between Tribal's Head of Marketing Communications, Lauren Hancox and Dr Cate Gribble here.

After such an insightful conference, the guests engaged in a fun evening with a three course meal, drinks and the infamous documentary star and fellow New Zealander, Te Radar, who regaled his audience with witty tales from New Zealand’s potted history.

One delegate said “It [the conference] was a chance to meet a variety of people from other institutions and companies. Overall the conference was excellent.”

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