All of the organisations involved in process improvement relating to course information through the relevant Jisc programmes have talked about delivering process efficiencies. While it is clear to see from the many published process maps, that there has been streamlining in terms of the number of steps in a process, the number of stakeholders involved and the overall time taken to complete the process, it is less easy to estimate the direct financial value of those efficiencies although there clearly are cost savings in the majority of cases.
Steps towards cost savings
In general cost savings arise from the following types of improvement:
- Capturing information electronically rather than having to input from paper documents
- Automated data validation reducing errors
- Data exchange rather than rekeying the same information into multiple systems
- Automated workflows replacing email exchanges and paper chasing
- Course data feed reducing web development time
A few quantitative examples may serve to highlight the scale of the efficiencies when multiplied up across the sector:
- Cardiff University estimated savings of over £55k per annum arising from having a single source of module information rather than entering the same data into five separate systems although it notes ‘It is not the cost benefit that is the greatest outcome here, it is establishing a system where only one source of programme information ever needs to be updated no matter how it is to be published, ensuring consistency in the information we are communicating to our students. This enhancement to the student experience is priceless’
- Cornwall College has estimated that the creation of the automated data feed serving the new college website has saved them 200 hours of developer time ie approximately five weeks work
- Coventry University found that, during the process of course creation, 54% of proposals had to be resubmitted due to errors on the approval forms. Using a service design approach they looked at the reasons behind all of the errors that required a ‘non-standard’ intervention to correct data before the next stage of the process could be carried out. They were then able to add validation to their online system, developed in SharePoint, which reduced the amount of errors by 74%
- Coventry University found that a consequence of their course creation and marketing processes being unrelated was that their web content management system was holding details of 30,000 courses, most of which were no longer running. This was reduced to 1,800 by the introduction of governance around the process
- Cranfield University reports that the introduction of an integrated system and automated workflows for the course approval and validation process has freed up staff time within its student records systems team.
- The University of East London (UEL) has introduced a tool for assessing the financial viability of a course at an early stage in its development (see the section on course costing) as well as making other improvements to, and automation of, the course validation process including earlier intervention by its quality assurance department. The University has already applied the revised processes to 61 programmes and is dealing with four to five validations/revalidations per week. Given that the typical cost of developing a course in higher education (HE) is estimated at around £20,000, this is a significant investment and the steps taken to reduce wasted effort will have a significant impact
- Falmouth University is a small institution with a reasonably small change in year-on-year course provision. It believes that the return on investment (ROI) from automating its course creation process is more qualitative than quantitative and they anticipate that data quality and communication improvements will be the biggest improvement although they will see a financial return on the investment over a 10 year period. Actual savings are estimated at 1.5 days of administrative time in the quality Office and six days of academic time per course created
- The University of Greenwich estimates it has made savings of over £100k per year as a result of integrating systems to improve registration/admissions processes (specifically for overseas students where admission was largely a paper-based process with associated long delays and inaccurate information caused by data being input multiple times). The savings come from staff time previously spent on manual adjustments or rework
- Manchester Metropolitan University has estimated that streamlined data collection via a simpler online unit definition and a streamlined approval process is saving them £1,500 per approval event for every module
- The University of Strathclyde has estimated savings of £178,900 arising from improving processes using a lean approach (this figure is net of the cost of training staff in the lean methodology). Whilst not all of the savings are directly related to course data management, course data provided the initial impetus for lean process improvement and showed the benefits of the approach
- The University of Strathclyde conducted a thorough evaluations of the impact of process improvements using heuristic analysis, user acceptance testing, critical analysis, Pareto analysis, and other measures and its evaluation outputs were able to put some quite specific figures on a range of process improvements including:
- communication automation: improvements of up to 65% and 90% in the course and class process respectively, contributing to better process reliability and reduced costs
- activity automation: up to 40% and 55% improvements in course and class process respectively contributing to reduced cycle times and cost, and increased throughput
- process visibility: contributed the single biggest enhancement and was found to be improved by up to 100% in both the course and class approval process, contributing towards improved process reliability
- The University of the West of England calculated time saved in their admissions department as a result of automating some of the form filling and email notification that was part of their advertising through UCAS. Estimated savings on a number of steps in the process amount to approximately 30 minutes per course. Based on advertising 200-300 courses in this manner per year, these savings could amount to almost four weeks of administrative time.
"The savings relate to the removal of duplication of effort and therefore freeing staff time for other activities. Efficiencies have been brought about in the way that data is collected, checked and confirmed throughout the year."
"Further advantages may also be gained from better organised curricula that may result in greater efficiencies, not only in the mapping of learning but in more practical resources such as room bookings, or field trips, as well as bigger institutional level issues such as institutional reviews."
University of Cumbria
Efficiency and effectiveness may not be cheaper
A review of course information resulted in restructuring of the entire undergraduate curriculum at Manchester Metropolitan University. The university has made significant cost savings in a more efficient programme approval process but has also opted to make significant investment in new technologies and some additional staff (such as faculty-based learning technologists) to deliver a better overall outcome:
"Broadly speaking the institution is delivering the new curriculum at the same overall cost base as it delivered the old curriculum, but it’s delivering that new curriculum to achieve better student and staff experience. Institutional change, unless there is a goal of curriculum reduction, is about achieving better outcomes for the same investment, not reducing investment."
Manchester Metropolitan University