Unlocking efficiency and growth: why your university needs a robust Student Information System

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Today’s environment is challenging for universities and other higher education institutions. Budgets are constrained and this has been exacerbated by rising costs due to inflation and interest rate increases. At the same time, student expectations of tailored, technology-enabled learning programmes have risen – requiring more investment. But this comes as government restrictions on visas for family members have placed pressure on the crucially important international student market, raising fears that UK universities may become a less attractive option which sees a reduction in international student numbers, and may harm the international reputation of UK universities.  

All of these pressures only underline the need for smart technology systems to manage the complexities, drive cost and operating efficiencies, and enhance the quality of the student experience. 

Key to this is the Student Information System (SIS) that sits at the heart of student management. The SIS needs to act as the central hub for student data and processes, with the information stored permeating into other systems. But are they living up to needs and expectations? 

The power of a robust SIS

Clearly, the student information system is a critically important platform for any university. From helping manage the admissions process, to acting as a repository for key student information, managing student finance including discounts and payments, and feeding information into reporting to government (such as HESA returns), it performs multiple key functions.

A good SIS will deliver benefits for both university staff and students:

  • Faculty and staff – Streamlined workflows, better data access for informed decisions, better visibility of students’ progression and pathway through their course
  • Administration – Enhanced reporting capabilities, improved ability to meet compliance requirements, data-driven decision making
  • Students – Improved self-service options, ability to track and make payments, personalised communication leading to better engagement

By automating many processes and linking information together, a SIS also promotes higher working efficiency with less time needed manually retrieving or entering information. This reduces the risk of data input errors and increases the quality and accuracy of information. It saves time for both staff and students, raising productivity.

Is your SIS fit for purpose?

The reality is that many universities are not entirely satisfied with their system and recognise the need for enhancements, upgrades or even replacement. Even where an institution is using the market-leading platform, SITS from Tribal, there may be a need to refine or bespoke some aspects for the university’s unique environment.

Many institutions are still housing their SIS on their own on-premises server, where a replatforming to the cloud could increase the agility and responsiveness of the system and reduce running costs. 

Cybersecurity has become a paramount issue for UK higher education institutions, facing a rising tide of cyber incidents. Data breaches and even targeted ransomware attacks are crippling systems, forcing some universities to revert to paper-based operations. This highlights the ongoing nature of the threat. 

As the saying goes, “Institutions need to be ‘lucky’ 24/7 to avoid attack. An attacker only needs to be ‘lucky’ once to get access.”  This aptly captures the asymmetrical nature of cybersecurity – attackers only need to find one vulnerability, while institutions must constantly maintain robust defences. 

This ongoing threat landscape necessitates a proactive approach to cybersecurity. Universities must stay up-to-date with the latest threats and invest in comprehensive security measures to protect their critical data, research and operations. However, due to budgetary constraints, many institutions have small IT teams that don’t have the capacity – and in some cases, the very specialised knowledge – to make enhancements to the SIS. It becomes a case of firefighting, patching immediate issues, and doing enough to keep the system running. 

Achieving the SIS vision 

Working with the right development partner, it is possible to make significant improvements to the SIS on a financially manageable basis – and the costs involved will be recouped through many years of improved efficiency and smarter working. 

Key here is working with a partner that has on the ground experience of working with the higher education sector and truly understands the university environment. Needless to say, in-depth technology expertise, agile and flexible software development capabilities, and the highest quality project management and communication are pre-requisites too. 

These are all attributes that we possess at NashTech, having worked with multiple UK universities on significant IT enhancement projects such as developing admissions portals that links to SIS systems and ensuring infrastructure readiness to ensure it meets today’s security, scalability, and cloud-based needs. Our offshore software development approach, with highly qualified and experienced developers in Vietnam and India, creates a cost-effective model for universities seeking to optimise their IT investments. 

Is it time to tackle your SIS? The end-goal is clear:
  • Accurate data, stored in the right place, accessible to everyone that needs it
  • Safe and highly cyber-secure
  • Easy fulfilment of all compliance and reporting requirements
  • User-friendly, attractive and intuitive interfaces
  • Interoperability with other key systems and environments such as ERP and VLE

A smart SIS could even help universities meet a further goal – using data to really understand their students. What are the characteristics and markers of students who succeed and excel? Which students are most likely to drop out or require extensive additional support?

This creates the prospect of using the SIS to build out different student personas that will enable more effective targeting and forward planning, moving the institution towards profitable growth – which, after all, is what the aspiration for any SIS should be.

So, is your SIS meeting organisational needs and positioning you for success?

Download this factsheet from NashTech that gives more in-depth advice on optimising your SIS, common pitfalls to avoid – and what qualities you should look for in a good development partner.

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