The campus of the future: Digital transformation in the Australian education sector

A brief look at the booming education sector in Australia is enough to send anyone into a tizzy. The influx of students, both native and international, across Australian Universities is increasing year on year with an average of one million enrolments per annum. And that doesn’t come as a surprise considering the country houses seven of the top 100 universities in the world!

According to a 2015 Universities Australia Report[1] the student numbers across member universities (39) has exponentially grown from just over half a million  in 1996 to over one million in 2013, a growth of close to 100%.

On the other hand, the total number of university employees in Australia has increased steadily since the late 1990s[2]. Rapid growth in student numbers has led to more students per staff member.  Today, more than 50,000 people hold academic jobs and they are supported by a larger number of casually-employed tutors and lecturers.

Given these numbers and the ever growing influence of technology in our daily lives, are universities and schools equipped to cope with this change? According to the Grattan Institute Report[3] online enrolments have grown rapidly in recent years with the distinctions between online and on-campus blurring.

Let’s take a look at some statistics in the Australian Education sector

  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) predicts that the number of internationally mobile students will rise to seven million by 2020
  • The international education sector is back on a high-growth trajectory following a major downturn from 2009 to 2011[4]
  • As of 27 February 2015, 314 198 applicants had applied for a university place, either through a Tertiary Admission Centre (excluding Western Australia) or directly to a university (including WA), 1.0% above the number of applicants as of May 2014[5]
  • There were 264 680 applicants who received an offer, either through a TAC (excluding WA) or directly to a university (including WA), 0.9% above the number of applicants who received offers as of May 2014
  • As of 27 February 2015, there were over 95K direct applications made to universities, an increase of 6.8% on the number of direct applications in 2014 – that’s an average of 24K applications received per university.
  • There were 78K direct offers made by universities as of 27 February 2015, an increase of 9.1% on the number of direct offers made in 2014.

Taking into consideration the above facts and figures, you can imagine the sheer magnitude of applications and offers handled by Australian Universities. Now imagine that in terms of documentation handled and man-hours spent per student per year. All this in an era where mobile apps and cloud technology is the norm.

Read on to find out why it is imperative for Australian education providers to digitalize, empower their workforce and make their processes more efficient.

Reduction in government funding

The university overhaul policies announced by the federal government last year included AUS$3.3 billion in budget cuts for the higher education. Bearing in mind the government already maintains a low level of funding for higher education, these reforms will have a major impact the way Australian universities function.

For universities a reduction in funding spells the added need to become lean while ensuring maximum productivity. An important element of this refit is digitalization of the core university administration tasks that can be split in to front and back office tasks.  Front office admin tasks can be student admission, course change, travel approval, fees payment plans and student appeal forms while back office admin tasks can be HR contracts for staff, HR performance reviews and expense claim forms etc. While the financial investment can seem prohibitive and counterintuitive, it really isn’t.

The key here is to define a clear strategy for achieving business objectives while implementing the right education technology solution. Different departments may have different back-office applications, closed platforms that hinder data sharing and need specialised IT training to operate. Choose open formats like HTML, PDF and XML that allow you to glue your legacy systems together to share data and get better return on investment from your existing systems.

A working example is the Intelledox solution for Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec). Intelledox’s’ signature business process automation software - Infiniti, an XML, rules based adaptive platform helped digitalize WelTec's student application process which earlier required applicants to complete paper forms, attach supporting documentation and send to enrolment office by post or in person.

This simple change not only reduced the number of man-hours spent in sorting the documentation for the institute’s staff but also eased the application for students ensuring a seamless enrolment system.

Keeping up with the millennials

Needless to say the environment in which today’s generation has grown up is vastly different from how it was five or ten years ago. Technology has changed the face of how this generation called Millennials interact with brands and this is true of universities as well. There is an urgent and immediate need for educational institutes to start speaking the same language as their students – ‘The digital tongue’.

Universities need to accelerate the integration of technology into the institute, enabling students to harness technology in ways that give them more flexibility and increase efficiency. This is an absolute must as Millennials expect to have access to the best tools for collaboration and execution. Many university websites shamelessly ask new student applicants (millennials) not to use a mobile device like a tablet or mobile phone for ‘best’ results. For Millennials who are practically fused to their smartphones and use them to order Uber cabs and Pizza’s, it’s sinful to ask them not to use their mobile while engaging with your brand.

While most universities have adapted technology in their pedagogy there is also a need to completely transform the way these institutes engage with their students both before and after enrolment. Digitalization of student-facing processes such as admissions, leave applications, library facilities and administrative assistance will not only help the institute simplify processes but also help students engage with their alma mater in a more familiar setting.

The road ahead

A major element of the ‘digital transformation’ journey is adopting technology and applying it to the very core of how various systems work in a university setting. Elementary changes such as switching to online forms and digital workflow management can help save both money and time. A fitting example of this is the application of Intelledox Infiniti at The Australian National University.

Intelledox has helped the ANU go from a highly manual and multi layered travel approval process to an Infiniti self-serve workflow system. The new system has not only replaced 10 individual manual forms but also cut down the approval time to just eight weeks saving close to AUS$2 million per annum.

The dynamic and rapidly changing digital environment calls for the establishment of a Digital Transformation Taskforce. This unit should be equipped to ensure effective implementation of technology across all verticals of the institute – a key to achieving a successful ‘digital transformation’. Forming this team will also ensure that educational institutes see through the digital transformation initiative from basic administrative processes to more complex processes involving parallel workflows and advanced data analytics.

The future of Australia as a popular destination for students will largely depend on how well educational institutions in Australia adapt and respond to students' expectations and provide a value proposition as technology and business models evolve.


[2] Department of Education (2013c) Staff: Selected higher education statistics 2013, Department of Education