Organisations you had no idea about are affecting the experience of your (potential) students long before they show up on campus- but who are they and how do you find them?
A few years ago, as part of my work as a manager of (what was essentially) international student experience, I presented a student's guide to living in Finland to my colleagues. We have all been a part of these kinds of meeting where ‘new’ ideas were sometimes met with silence, an eye roll or two and/or one 'surely they can find this stuff on the Internet or at tourist information' (literally). But that is the point, they aren't tourists. With over 1000 international degree students on campus (and about the same number of exchange students), there was a great need for the information that was contained in that document. And unlike many of my colleague there, I believed (and still do) that the student experience starts long before they show up on campus (or are even accepted).
The failure to recognise that these people will soon be full-time residents in your community can be a common one. Some fail to acknowledge that these students move their whole lives (sometimes even other's lives) when they come to study at your institution.
Contained within that guide I had created was all kinds of non-academic/non-institution-related information that the university had little or no control over. So how do you know who is going to affect your students’ experience? Especially if they are not on campus or in any way affiliated with your institution...and what can you do about it anyway?
This is where service design tools come in handy- firstly, stakeholder mapping is a great way to see the network and relationships outside of the institution-centric view. In order to create these maps, you have to have students and staff come together in a workshop to create them as this is the only way to get the answer. I would actually really love to do this separately with one group of staff and then one group of students to see how these visions differ and then bring them back together and merge these.
Tools to attain insights
The names of the tools are less important than their actual function but as a service designer I would facilitate this process in the following way:
After brainstorming or brain-writing (a silent form of brainstorming), I would dive right into the stakeholder mapping. You need to decide what your concentric circle reference points will be. There are many different ones but for international students a good starting point could be this one:
...your international students’ experience goes far beyond your campus and starts long before they arrive on campus.
Longer and wider
From this mapping exercise, you will find out who the actors are you really should be engaging with and how active they are in your students' and/or your staff's lives. You will also probably find out that your international students’ experience goes far beyond your campus and starts long before they arrive on campus.
You could then further segment them by their function or by what influence you have over them. And then take the same post-it notes and use a Prioritisation matrix. From the Prioritisation matrix you will find out how important they are in the lives of your students and staff. When you add in this last tool, you will find how urgently you need to engage them, how you need to engage with the different entities and what might be able to wait for another day (but make sure that day comes). There are many slight variations on this form but they all essentially do the same thing. You need to decide what labels you put on the axes- a common pairing is Feasibility (or Usability) vs Impact.
A fine local example in how something like this can be used the case from arrival of students in September 2013. Our institution had quite a decrease in students from Pakistan. After I got the stats (long after you can actual affect anything of course), I went searching as to why. The front-line staff knew why…they told me that the Finnish Embassy in Islamabad had closed in August 2012. Therefore the students are now met with this message on the Finnish mission’s website:
“Residence permit: Since the Customer Service in the Embassy of Finland in Islamabad is closed, you need to go and apply for the residence permit in any other country where Finland has an Embassy (for example Abu Dhabi, Ankara, Kathmandu, Beijing, Tehran and New Delhi, BUT NOT Kabul). Even London in UK and Bangkok in Thailand are possible, if needed, since there are direct flights to those cities from Pakistan.
You need to have the necessary visa valid to that country - if necessary for citizens of your country - to be able to enter the country and visit the customer service of the Embassy of Finland. We would also recommend that you will make the reservation for an appointment.”
Really? You want these students to travel to another country to apply for a residence permit...for which they may or may not need some other kind of entry document? This is an area where there should be some communication between the institutions and the government (and luckily there is in some countries like UKISA in the UK) but it is also the institution’s role to be advocates for their future students at the national level if they want to keep recruiting them. So the experience of a future student at the Embassy in their own country is also part of the student experience.
Now there may not be much you can do to influence the procedures but you need to advocate with different entities- get yours and your students' voices heard- and you need to arm these students with information to make the process as smooth as possible. And the reason is, these students, if they are good enough to get into a good institution in your country, they have options and they may just choose somewhere else that has a more accessible Embassy.
Knowing who is influencing your brand (intentional or not) is vital to managing expectations of potential and current students as well as your brand.