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Why Automation for Universities Is a Must-Have
  • May 14, 2019|
  • 18 minute read
Why Automation for Universities Is a Must

Organizations around the world have realized the power of automation and are reaping big benefits from it.

That is why those in the manufacturing sector, for instance, are able to churn out products faster while still maintaining their quality.

Education is no different.

If you want to run a successful learning institution efficiently and effectively, you need to rely on a system that can perform some, if not most, of the tasks even faster and more accurate than a human can.

In short, automation for universities is a must-have.

You are probably thinking automation is going to need a huge budget, will cause disruption, not to mention, take too much time to integrate.

Well, the truth is, you will need to spend a bit of cash, no doubt and there will also be some disruption to your normal operations and yes, it requires time to set up.

But the end result is worth all that trouble.

Plus, today’s cloud solutions can be seamlessly integrated with your existing tools, so the disruption is minimal. Better yet, the cloud is perfectly scalable, so you will only pay for what you use.

Just like any other business entity, universities are also under immense pressure to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and provide students with quality education.

This is where automation can be a real game-changer.

An automation workflow report by Formstack found that 63 percent of the best universities worldwide are using automation tools.

Most universities are now using technology to drive their processes and data analysis to guide their decision-making.

automation in education

Image Source: Formstack

88 percent of these institutions are looking to improve efficiency. This need for improved services is due to the current demands of students, faculty, donors, and alumni.

The current education consumer wants to experience the same convenience they are getting from other industries.

They want brands that care about them before they can make a purchase. Universities and colleges are grappling with this reality, although not fast enough for some.

Running a university involves having lots of paperwork, numerous repetitive workflows, and data. Consider enrolment, hiring faculty, running smooth financial operations, dealing with students’ health, housing, and so much more.

Automation for universities becomes inevitable for those who wish to improve their processes.

However, despite the technological improvements in the educational industry, most institutions are still struggling.

Most departments are still spending most of their time dealing with repetitive and mundane tasks.

Out of the people surveyed in the Formstack report, 55 percent still spend time handling manual work that consumes most of their time. 25 percent of them claimed they spent over two days on these mundane tasks.

automation in education

Image Source: Formstack

Is it that they are going about the process wrong or that they haven’t fully grasped and appreciated the numerous benefits of automation for universities?

Most higher learning institutions, especially those who have not yet understood the kind of change automation can bring, believe that it will probably take away their jobs.

On the contrary, automation does not eliminate human interaction processes. In fact, it helps boost human interaction.

In the case of institutions, it helps the staff engage prospective students better and effectively run and manage their processes.

So, if you fall under this category of people, you know, the ones still thinking whether or not to automate, this article is for you.

Teaching Millennials and Generation Z

Teaching Millennials and Generation Z

Students joining institutions and colleges right now have grown up with access to technology. They do not understand a world without computers and smartphones.

They don’t mind going to the library, but when given a choice, they would rather find their information online through their mobile devices.

Knowing very well that you will be admitting students with this kind of technological know-how, your institution needs to be fully equipped with the latest technology.

Sadly, most universities are still using paper-based and manual processes. You can imagine the frustration students and the employees have to go through each day.

However, most professors and students have been quick to adopt technological systems through the use of electronic essays and online student portals.

Even in universities that are still clinging on to manual processes for dear life, lecturers and students are making use of technology to simplify processes, even though not on an institutional level.

You see, manual processes are prone to errors, and unless you shift to automation, they could also lead to loss of income for the university.

A Shift from Manual Processes to Automation for Universities

A Shift from Manual Processes to Automation for Universities

Universities that are still using manual processes are slowing down administrators, educators, and students alike.

Some higher learning institutions have been slow to adopt automation. This is probably because they are yet to understand and appreciate the benefits of automation for universities fully.

If you have been wondering how come your student admissions have been declining year-on-year, why your professors look demoralized and frustrated, why certain tasks take forever to complete – the answer lies in the manual processes.

As an administrator, you need to start laying the groundwork for an efficient institution by beginning the process of shifting from manual to automation.

Automation for universities will help you stay organized, reduce mistakes and slip-ups, and increase efficiency. Here are some of the many ways automation can help improve processes.

1. Admission

A prospective student comes across your website while doing their research online. They go ahead and fill out the form as they seek to find out more about a course at your university. By the end of the day, the school has received numerous forms. It will be hard and tedious for one or two people to go through all the forms and give all the students satisfactory answers.

With email automation, you can send auto-replies, follow up with each prospective student, and do so promptly. The autoresponders are not impersonal since there is a name, email, and contact number if the students need further information.

The name and phone number make the autoresponder emails human, and the student will love the quick responses.

Group the students into location, programs they are interested in, and other values. Use this information to filter prospects into a personalized list.

Personalization ensures that any information you send is relevant to the prospective student and sent at the right time. Autoresponders, email campaigns, and newsletters must be engaging and relevant.

automation in education

Image Source: Higher Education Marketing. Segmenting students based on location.

An automated strategy for admissions creates a cause and effect system. When the prospective student fills out the form or signs up for your newsletter, their contact information automatically enters the database.

This database then sends frequent emails to the students with information on the courses they searched for and enticing details to get them to enroll.

The process also dramatically reduces the time it takes for a student to send their application, have it reviewed, and get a response. Automation makes the application process faster as the administration makes decisions more quickly.

The university system records will already integrate with student information records. The administrator can easily compare the applicants to the school’s enrolment goals easily and send out a reply promptly.

The school will have a system that can match students to certain qualities or a criterion that easily chooses the students. The automated process saves hours compared to when the sorting of students is done manually.

It also streamlines the application process. A university with a quicker response time will get ahead of the competition. You will get promising applicants faster, and only a few staffers will be involved.

2. Attendance


Automation makes it easy to account for every student and lecturer. It records time and date immediately, and a report is sent directly to the office when the teacher clicks absent or present.

It also makes it easier to follow up with rogue students and even teachers. If the teacher misses several classes, then your board can follow up with evidence.

It also becomes easier to follow up with students who have attendance problems and help them solve the issues that may be keeping them from the class before they escalate.

3. School Maintenance Processes

Before technology, for a broken window to be fixed at the institution, a maintenance request had to be done in writing and taken to different departments for approval.

With automation, the maintenance request will not get lost or have a juice stain by the time it gets to the maintenance crew. They get notified instantly and take care of the problem almost immediately.

The same goes for any other kind of repairs and help needed at the institutions. Students can make requests, even on their mobile phones and be confident that the request gets to the right person promptly.

The automation process also makes it easier, through data collected, to detect trends in usage. It can help administrators track costs and make budget forecasts accurately.

4. Hiring Faculty

Hiring Faculty

With automation, no forms are necessary when you need to hire lecturers or staff members. Their personal information will be filled out online correctly – for easy access.

The new faculty can fill them out on the first day, and multiple forms belonging to one individual are automatically updated.

5. Course Evaluation

Lecturers can evaluate courses based on feedback from students easily.  Feedback will help improve a student’s learning experience.

The students can send anonymous reviews to a repository where the lecturer receives the data. The lecturer gets an overview of the course success and uses this to come up with ways to improve their teaching methods.

6. Payrolls

Imagine all the work the HR and finance department must do in a university with more than 200 employees at the end of every month.

Paper-based payrolls mean they must handle expense reports, fill out timesheets, and then take them to the manager for approval.

Once approved, they input the data manually into the payroll system. Imagine the inefficiencies, errors, omissions, and the time taken to complete the process. Not forgetting that with that big a faculty and staff, the person doing all this work is exhausted and their productivity not guaranteed.

It also means that for one reason or the other, the paychecks get delayed and the HR is left to deal with complaints from employees.

Automation speeds up the process and prevents human errors. Employees get paid faster and on time, and payroll efficiency improves. The HR team can now concentrate on other critical business activities instead of chasing paper.

7. Improve Students’ Life

Improve Students’ Life

It’s no secret that students are procrastinators. They will wait until the last moment to enroll for a course or apply for a scholarship. There is no joy in writing a 20-page application essay if we’re being honest about it. This means that the school needs to find a way to remind them if a deadline is coming up.

Automation for universities will help you segment students so that you can constantly update them before the deadline arrives. Include handy tips for the students on how they can go about the process.

Automation can also be used to make life easier for students or make them engage in school activities. Students get overwhelmed by the number of things they must do. This is how things get forgotten or postponed indefinitely.

Automated emails will remind them of events or activities that interest them. These include automated emails on where to buy tickets for a game, the venue of a seminar, its date and time, a lecture by a guest speaker, and so much more.

8. Improve Processes

Having a good customer relationship management software (CRM) will help the institution collect data, analyze it and gain insights. The data gained from the university website, social media profiles, forums, mail subscriptions, and more will help you understand how best to relate to the students, employees, and the community at large.

The insights will help you better approach prospective students. You will know how they think, how they behave, and how you can make your responses more personalized and engaging.

Students benefiting from automation

Students benefiting from automation

A professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and his assistants were having problems managing the number of questions from their more than 300 computer science and cognitive science students.

Goel, the professor, solved this problem by introducing a new staff member by the name Jill Watson. She was efficient and answered all the questions, most of them repetitive, accurately, and quickly. Jill was a virtual assistant.

Goel explains that he had to feed Jill vast amounts of data to ensure accuracy. They kept this from the students until the end of the semester. When they revealed this information to the students, they were excited.

The school later went on to introduce two more assistants, Ian and Stacey. Ian answered simple queries like Jill, while Stacey was conversational.

Bots like Jill, Ian, and Stacey are making learning easier for the students while saving the professor’s time. Asking a question via email or chat means a student gets the response later after they’ve moved on to something different.

Other ways students are benefitting from automation include:

1. Course registration

Manual registration is outright tedious. Students have for a long time been subjected to manually registering for the courses they want. This process is so inefficient that most of these students often sadly find out that their classes of choice are full as soon right before they attend their first class.

Luckily, an automated registration process ensures that students can tell whether a course is available or not. Lecturers will also receive their enrolment list as it happens without waiting to see who shows up in class for their first lesson.

2. Students portals

The portals offer students the information they need for class registration, timetables, exam dates, assignments due, course-specific messages, lecturer instructions and a message board that allows students to interact. Students submit their work online, can watch pre-recorded lectures, and read the course material from the portal.

Rethinking Education: Effectively Adopting Automation

Rethinking Education Effectively Adopting Automation

Automation for universities can only work if the adoption process is systematic. Most students in school right now are wondering if their chosen profession will exist by the time they graduate. Technology is automating most jobs and many students and workers will need to adapt to the disruption.

According to a McKinsey report, even though most people will lose jobs through automation, the dynamic and growing economy fuelled by technology will create even more jobs. These jobs will come as a result of growth in current occupations driven by demand and by the creation of new occupations that didn’t exist before.

automation in education

Image Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings

In his Book “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” Joseph Aoun suggests that institutions should reform not just their curriculum, but also their entire educational approach. They should start planning for what is coming next in the economy by teaching courses that prepare students for an automated future.

Educators must change their way of teaching if they are to churn out students who can work in a fully automated world.

They must go beyond testing knowledge to applying flexible knowledge that integrates across diverse subjects. Teach students things that machines will struggle with like critical thinking, ethics, cultural agility, creativity, collaboration, compassion, and communication. Students need to have an education that is not derailed by advances in technology.

The curriculum must empower students to tackle jobs that only humans can do. They must have data literacy, technological know-how, and human literacy. Integrate these and students can develop creative mindsets and the ability to discover, invent, and have original ideas even in the age of automation.

We need these students to innovate and launch new companies in the future, run businesses and organizations, engage in diplomacy missions, collaborate with others, and deal with diverse teams.

The access to online education has started this revolution where students can now attend extra courses not offered by their institutions. These online courses are helping universities reach out to more students while offering courses that help them further their careers.

Most of the universities appearing on the world university rankings provide their students with massive open online courses (MOOCs). According to the academic ranking of world universities 2019, Oxford emerged as the top school. All the top six schools in the list offer students access to MOOCs.

Automation for universities and artificial intelligence are making it easier for the best universities worldwide to educate more students. With automation, students from all institutions will have access to the kind of education students studying in the top 500 universities in the world do.

Students should learn experimental education. They should have not only theoretical knowledge but the practical bit, too. Allow students time to conduct research, get internships, join student exchange programs, and get study abroad opportunities to hone their practical skills.

This learning agenda will help them understand the changing nature of work. They will learn about the skills they require not only now, but also in the future.

They can then become independent thinkers with problem-solving skills and the ability to collaborate with others. They gain a deeper understanding of how to use the machines and solve problems they encounter with them.

Education also must stop being an activity done for a certain number of years before one joins the workforce. It must be a lifelong pursuit.

The machines are getting smarter and so should the workforce. Those in the workforce should get extra training to improve their skills and keep up with the ever-changing workplace.

Conclusion: Why Automation Is a Must for Universities

Conclusion Why Automation Is a Must for Universities

The automation train is inevitable for universities. Automation already has a significant impact on jobs, tasks done, roles, and employment. Universities have to prepare their students for an uncertain future that will create new opportunities for businesses.

You, therefore, must equip these students with digital literacy, capacity to think freely, solve modern and complex problems, as well as broaden their reasoning.

You must also encourage them to learn new skills even after they leave school. This kind of learning will broaden their approaches to employment and job seeking.

Mastering skills like collaboration, coping with uncertainty, handling the complexities, and broadly thinking of scenarios will be crucial for every student.

These skills will help them move from one role to the next, help them start businesses, and take care of their livelihoods.

Automation will lead to the slimming of job opportunities, but those with the necessary skills will not lose jobs. They will have the necessary skills required for the workforce.

The McKinsey report cited above found that by 2030, three to 14 percent of those in the global workforce will have to change occupations. Workers will also need to evolve alongside increasingly capable machines.

This change will require higher education attainment but also creativity, social skills, emotional skills, high-level cognitive abilities, and more skills that cannot be automated.

automation in education

Image Source: McKinsey

It is high time universities changed how they impart knowledge to the students. It means ending the rivalry between science and art subjects and integrating to create a better workforce for the future.

Encourage learning beyond the classroom, deliver the right skills to those already in the workforce, and redesign courses that fill employment gaps now and in the future.

In order to position your institution as one of the best universities worldwide, your processes need to be automated. The time to bring an end to paper-based methods and embrace automation is now.

The changes to your systems will spearhead the change needed in education. It will also improve the efficiency and accuracy of tasks. It will make your employees more productive while reducing their workload.

Administrative tasks will be done faster with fewer mistakes. Sharing of accurate data will also be quicker, lecturers will spend more time helping students instead of filling out paperwork.

In the long run, the students will benefit and most importantly, enjoy the university experience in better and more efficient ways than they originally could.

Continuing to hold on to outdated processes will affect the institution’s stability, profitability, and the student’s ability to access education and services.

Automation for universities may look like a costly undertaking, but it is definitely value for money. It will ultimately have a holistic effect that not only cuts costs and eliminates routine tasks but creates value for students and employees.

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