Driving decisions through data in Australia’s Higher Education sector

Students in 2017 - 2 of these are likely to leave by 2018

Did you know the current university attrition rate sees one-in-five students leave their course in the first year – resulting in $3.5 billion of lost student lifetime value across the student lifecycle? And that one-in-three university students fail to complete the course they enrolled in within six years of beginning it?

Both trends are impacting Australia’s current higher education sector, and have the potential to adversely impact our country’s future economic prosperity considering fewer skilled graduates are entering the workforce.

Undoubtedly – these are areas where government, industry, and academia must join forces to address, because it’s huge sums of money that could be better spent elsewhere – for example, to increase funding for research.

Encouragingly, the technology and processes already exist today empowering us to do this as a collective. Kick-starting the evolution of Australia’s higher education sector the federal government is introducing new reforms in 2017. These will give new focus on how best to address attrition rates and provide universities with the support needed to ensure students complete their courses.

Picking up the baton for industry and academia, Microsoft has launched its Future of Higher Education whitepaper, which aims to equip universities with the knowledge they need to harness the full value of data they are capturing – something many are not currently doing in a consistent way.

Through addressing questions such as how can Australian universities deliver superior and tailored education experiences; and what can be done to stay competitive and build the country’s reputation for excellence in higher-education and research, we provide a series of recommendations designed to assist Australia’s tertiary institutions in an increasingly complex and competitive environment.

For many, this includes overcoming challenges associated with decision making which have long been based on tradition, history and personal preference, and made in isolation from other departments.

In the study, Microsoft identifies three core strategies to capitalise on the opportunities made possible through more intelligent data analytics:

  • Create a data-centric culture: Fostering an understanding of what can be achieved with data encourages a willingness to change and do more, as well as drive adoption and utilisation
  • Enable the democratisation of data: Breaking down departmental siloes results in more data being shared, unlocking a plethora of new operational efficiencies that were previously not possible
  • Complement existing data warehouses with real-time business intelligence apps: Tailored decision making platforms that sit within existing applications and systems result in faster insights and smarter decisions applied in real-time

Taking this approach, universities can begin to generate a 360 degree view of their students, courses and programs, and unleash a variety of financial and performance related benefits.

Creating a virtuous cycle where funds are invested back into areas that create real value, Australia’s tertiary institutions have the opportunity to build more tailored and engaging teaching experiences, better allocate resources to optimise budgets and maintain surpluses, and convert interest in degrees to enrolment and retention.

It’s a future ensuring the value of the sector’s investments are optimised, and more widely benefitting the future prosperity of Australia’s knowledge economy.

Students in a lecture hall

While some Australian institutions – such as RMIT and the University of the Sunshine Coast – are already benefitting by analysing the data available to them, there are learnings for the local sector to be had by looking outside Australian shores and into other industries.

A great example of an institution spearheading the trend toward intelligent data analysis is Stetson University in the United States.

Like many of Australia’s universities, Stetson has grappled with how to process and curate large and growing volumes of data generated from multiple technology touch points.

Led by Dr. Resche Hines, Assistant Vice President of Institutional Research and Effectiveness, Stetson recognised and put in motion a democratised view of data using Microsoft Power BI – one that is scalable, user-friendly, and which makes interactive information a utility for all.

The insights captured have debunked long-standing myths, such as which courses are more viable than others, and answered fundamental questions all universities have at one time or another, like ‘what makes students stay in a degree?’

Since going live with Microsoft Power BI, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Today, students, academics, teachers, administrators and alumni are empowered to drive their own data-led investigations, and have better-informed conversations helping the Campus evolve.

Microsoft believes improved data driven insights will become a powerful differentiation for Australian tertiary institutions on the world stage. It is the key that will unlock a host of additional benefits revolutionising the services delivered, from enabling improved student engagements, adapting courses for current market needs, and optimising investments.

And to make this reality, we need to make smarter and faster decisions based on the data at our fingertips.

We welcome and encourage you to join us on this journey.

For more information around how Australia’s Higher Education sector can take full advantage of the data at its fingertips to make better-informed decisions, download Microsoft’s Driving decisions through data: The future of higher education in Australia whitepaper.