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Royal Holloway University London Students’ Union has always seen the provision of advice services to its student members as a priority, with full time staff, its own dedicated space in the Students’ Union building and trained triage staff at the main helpdesk. But for many years, the Advice Centre made use of the shared University ticketing system to record cases and, whilst this solution proved valuable as the Students’ Union moved more services to a digital environment, it became clear that this system couldn’t provide the secure, standalone case management system that the advice team needed.
Recognising the growing importance of advice services
As the demand from students for advice and advocacy support increased, the Students’ Union took the decision to make the Advice Centre an operational unit in its own right; historically it had been a part of the Student Voice department with very little interaction with other Union activities. To support this greater autonomy, in 2018 a project got underway to find a case management system that would be completely separate to the University, which the Advice Centre would own and have direct responsibility for and would fit their budget.
As an existing user of the MSL System from Membership Solutions Ltd (MSL), the advice team’s first step was to look at the benefits MSL’s Student Case Manager could bring.
The team had some simple requirements – we needed to be able to securely log enquiry details against individuals and to produce monthly reports on these interactions. We knew the Student Case Manager system had been developed for the student advice sector and that it would help us manage our case work and of course benefit the growing number of students needing our support - Serife Tumburi, Advice Centre Manager
Identifying trends and informing policy
Over the summer of 2018, Student Case Manager was implemented and configured to meet the existing requirements of the advisors and manager.
It quickly became apparent that the reporting alone would transform the team’s ability to identify trends, flag areas of urgent concern and so contribute far more significantly to the Students’ Union’s day to day working.
The Advice Centre Manager now has a fortnightly meeting with sabbatical officers to highlight issues that should be taken to the University for a rapid response and the Centre’s monthly reporting contributes to the Union’s social policy meetings.
An unforeseen benefit of the granular reporting available in Student Case Manager is that it drives the new digital communication strategy developed and managed by the Advice Centre Manager.
The trends identified, tied in with activities in the academic calendar, trigger advice articles created for the Union website. This content is given priority home page space so students can quickly reach the information they need and any signposting to University or other external support providers. The Advice Centre also has its own area of the website with a searchable database of articles and sources of advice.
The wider impact of a dedicated digital case management system
Student Case Manager and the communications plan it informs has had a huge impact on enquiries coming into the Advice Centre. In the few years since the system was implemented, case numbers have increased by up to 250% as students have become aware of the support that is available to them. Indeed, universities and students’ unions across the southern region of the UK have all seen a huge growth in demand for advice services and the advice centre is now considered an essential service.
For the 2020-21 academic year, the impact of Covid cannot be ignored and unsurprisingly it has played its part in a change of case types; Student Case Manager has recorded up to 50% increase in cases related to accommodation complaints as students spend the majority of time in their houses or halls. And for those who haven’t been able to take up their accommodation, the advice team has achieved 100% success with deposit dispute cases.
This intelligence has driven new content for the communications plan to inform students before they encounter a problem and has been the catalyst for a new series of online drop-in sessions that the advice team runs twice a week. In lieu of in person visits to the Advice Centre, the team hosts two-hour drop-in sessions via Zoom which regularly see between five and ten students joining, in addition to between five and fifteen individual appointments per week .
As Covid has impacted all areas of the Students’ Union operational staff, the Advice Centre has been able to maintain levels of staffing to manage fluctuating workload. By using case number reporting in Student Case Manager, the manager has identified when staff should come off furlough and also successfully made the case for additional staff, enabling their previously helpdesk-based triage staff member to return to work as part of the advice team.