Five ways that changing technology is helping universities to become more efficient

Digital technology has made a real impact on efficiency in universities. We look at five ways that universities are using new systems to make things work better for staff and students… and one example of a more established tool that is helping to drive efficiency.

Improving the experience of the clearing process for both students and staff

Universities are making it easier for students going through clearing by introducing more customer-focused, technology-driven systems to deal with peaks in enquiries after A-level results are published.

At the University of Derby, the assistant registrar for admissions, Gurjit Nijjar, oversaw the introduction of a paperless clearing system for clearing in 2014. This was based around software called Zen Desk, which offered academics more timely and accurate reporting, allowing decisions on accepting a student to become almost instantaneous.


For the applicant, it meant that they did not have to repeat information and received a decision/response swiftly. “We had calm at the phone,” says Nijjar. “In a paperless system we had no people running round from desk to desk. Staff felt equipped to deal with things because it had been explained in their training.”

The system cost roughly £55,000 and the university got its return on investment due to a higher conversion rate, following 18% more offers and a 68% increase in the enrolment rate through clearing.

Using online customer service system to improve the student experiences

The University of Salford has brought together its student support services into a hub called AskUS, with an online self service section where students can help themselves.

Vikki Goddard, the University of Salford’s chief operating officer  said that the move was about “driving a customer service ethos across registry, student support, student finance, enabling a one stop shop for our students coupled with more online services moving forward towards 24/7 delivery”.

Using predictive analytics to reduce drop-out rates

The Open University (OU) has led the way in pioneering innovative methods of teaching and learning. Professor of educational technology, Mike Sharples, says by tracking each learner, the OU can give them customised help from the start of the course.

“That way, we can see which learners are succeeding, which ones are likely to have problems and then help those people by giving them supplementary material or perhaps putting them in contact with other students,” he says. “We are using analytics in a much more active way than we used to and the OU is taking a lead in predictive analytics and using analytics to inform the design of courses.

Harnessing technology for more effective procurement

As the head of procurement at a small institution, the University for the Creative Arts’ Alison Brownjohn likes to make full use of technology. “Procure to pay (P2P) was implemented about five years ago and since then we have added an e-marketplace which we are constantly working to extend with further suppliers on e-invoicing and punchout to supplier catalogues.

Automating routine processes

The University of Roehampton has been investing in its systems to automate as much of the routine that it can. Pro vice chancellor, Reggie Blennerhassett says this can make processes more efficient, but also improve the data collection. “We are implementing a new HR system and will also introduce a new student record system in the next three years,” he says

Sometimes a spreadsheet will do the job

Spreadsheets might be well into their fourth decade of life but they are still an important tools for university administrators. The University of Roehampton introduced a project prioritisation protocol to help to work out where suggested projects fit in with all other ideas.

Introduced in 2014, the list is intended to prevent staff from being overburdened with conflicting priorities. Blennerhassett says that the chief information officer manages a list that staff are asked to agree to. “We’ve got a spreadsheet, which sets out what resources are required, who is required to deliver the project and the priority and we have a year in which we are going to slot it into based on the priority,” he explains. “Everyone agrees that prioritising makes a huge difference.”

How is your university harnessing technology to make processes more efficient and effective? Email your examples of innovations to Rosie Niven.

Rosie Niven
Rosie is the content editor at Efficiency Exchange