Lean: taking the strain out of admissions

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university lecture theatre
Middlesex University has produced a better student experience, reduced mundane admin tasks and boosted staff confidence, simply by improving its admissions system. Karolin Arvidsson explains how it worked.


In 2015 the business enhancement team (BET) at Middlesex University started a university-wide project in conjunction with a technical application and system project to implement an online application portal.

A review of business processes and the IT infrastructure that supported admissions demonstrated the need to reduce manual routine tasks, to let applicants to have sight of the current stage of their application and to better serve the academic community who invest time in reviewing applications and making decisions.

Staff say that the briefings are very effective in adopting a more collaborative approach between teams.

The application and admissions improvement project aimed to redesign the admissions process and improve the flow of student applications. The objectives of the project were to help allocate resource efficiently, manage peak periods, improve coordination and collect student data. Additionally, the BET facilitated the streamlining of the admissions process, together with the teams responsible, to better serve prospective students applying to study at the university.

What we did

Four main teams were involved to ensure the success of the project: admissions operations, admissions communications, admissions technical and student visa compliance. Together they collaborated with a total of 65 members of staff from faculties and services to identify and implement improvements. The project had a significant impact, driving out inefficiencies in the applications and admissions journey.

During the project, BET introduced different lean tools and techniques to enable the teams to continuously improve the applicant and staff experience. The teams started by collecting data and conducting analysis on the current state. They then used process mapping to identify and eliminate waste, and deployed appropriate improvement solutions to provide value to our prospective students.

All teams are now using visual management to monitor daily and weekly workload and performance indicators focusing on the quality of service delivered to applicants and faculties. The admissions teams created a working calendar shared with the wider academic registry department, showing important milestones throughout the academic year.

Read more about how others have used lean to improve efficiency

Short daily team led briefings (communication cells) were also introduced to enhance communication across the teams, discuss issues, and identify opportunities for improvement and share successes with colleagues. These briefings supported the roll-out of the new application portal by allowing staff to easily and quickly provide feedback on any technical issues slowing down the new applications process. Additionally, staff say that the briefings are very effective in adopting a more collaborative approach between teams.

Positive outcomes

The project has resulted in improvements to quality and student experience:

  • The admissions teams have increased the quality of offers by 20% since May 2016.
  • A ‘one stop shop’ has been set up on campus for applicants requiring a disclosure barring service (DBS) check. 58% more DBS checks were completed in June 2016 compared to June 2015, ensuring that more students can start their placements on time
  • Speeding up the process has reduced the average turnaround time from application to offer for home fee-paying undergraduate students by 25% from the 2016 cycle to 2017 cycle.
  • Reducing incoming enquiries from applicants asking about the status of their application by 40%, issuing significant numbers of automated communications to applicants to notify them of changes to their application.
  • Staff feel that they are more able to take ownership of improvements to continuously enhance the applicant journey

Continuous improvement as a way of working

The introduction of lean has positively affected admissions staff and their relationship with colleagues around the university. Monitoring the incoming workload and how the admissions area is performing, with the use of data, has helped allocate resources appropriately and to manage peak periods more efficiently.

Teams have expressed a new-found confidence in leading the daily briefings and see the importance of celebrating achievements. Throughout the project, staff members have developed their personal skills and gained new ones through the introduction of lean tools and techniques. This has enabled them to carry out enhancement initiatives in their areas, all contributing to continuous improvement.

Read the case study of the Applications and Admissions Project to find out more about the process and experiences of the staff involved.

For more information, contact Karolin Arvidsson or Anne Wendt at Middlesex University

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Karolin Arvidsson
Business enhancement manager, Middlesex University

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