University challenge

17th Jan 2017

The Brexit vote has left European students, along with the higher education institutions they study at, in limbo. What will happen to these students when the UK leaves the European Union (EU)?

In mid-October the Government gave reassurances over fees and loans for students from other EU countries applying for places on undergraduate courses starting in autumn 2017. But after Brexit, if EU students are to be considered the same as other international students, they will see their tuition fees rise from £9,000 a year to between £11,000 and £18,000 depending on the course. The worry is that these increases could lead to a sharp decline in European students applying to study in the UK.

Dr Markos Koumaditis, Deputy Director of Human Resources at London South Bank University (LSBU), says the uncertainty is not good for long-term planning, and has made it difficult to deliver the customer service he would like. “But it is what it is and we have to try to keep positive and try to reassure people we are going to be there for them,” he says.

During this period of uncertainty, Koumaditis and colleagues continue to send out news bulletins to staff and students and run regular workshops at which staff and students can ask questions of the Vice Chancellor, Professor David Phoenix, and his senior management team. “The sessions are very well attended,” notes Koumaditis.

All of this comes at a time when there is increased pressure on universities to deliver better customer service. ‘The attitude among students has changed,” he explains. “They do see themselves more as consumers than before. They are more demanding.”

Generational shift

This change is partly due to students expecting more for their money since the increase in tuition fees to £9,000 in 2012 – and partly as a result of technological advances. “This is a generation that lives in the moment; a generation that is connected all the time. They would like everything now if possible,” says Koumaditis. “What is more, they want a personalised service and they would like a personal, emotional connection with whatever they do.

The response of Koumaditis and his team has been to lead a revolution in customer service at LSBU. They have conducted student customer satisfaction surveys, while using The Institute of Customer Service’s UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) to benchmark the university’s customer service performance against other organisations. The team has also increased development and customer service training for staff.

The result has been happier students and more motivated staff. “The top 10 organisations on [the UKCSI] score between 80 and 85% customer satisfaction,” says Koumaditis. “Last year we achieved 76% for our student services and that has been fantastic for us.”

New services

Feedback from students has led to new services including 24/7 library access during exam periods, greater variety and more transparency about ingredients and pricing in the cafes and restaurants, greater emphasis on the use of social media rather than email to communicate with students, and kiosks in halls of residence where students can log comments and complaints. The university has also made its wellbeing and mental health services more responsive.

All these improvements have been made with the support of the Vice Chancellor and his management team. ‘Senior people do realise that higher education is a very competitive market and I think customer service and creating a service ethos across the campus can really give us a competitive advantage,’ says Koumaditis.

It’s a competitive advantage that should prove invaluable to LSBU when it comes to attracting students in the years ahead, whatever the implications of Brexit.

Click here to read the original article from Customer Focus magazine.

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