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CASE STUDY: Harper Adams Students’ Union expands services with new digital strategy supported by MSL

August 2019 - Harper Adams Students’ Union (HASU) is set on a picturesque and rural campus in Shropshire where 6,000 students study for land-based qualifications at under- and post-graduate levels. The Students’ Union provides the social hub for its members and is known for its popular events programme and busy campus venue. This traditional event-focussed approach has served the Union and its members well, ensuring its longevity in what has been uncertain times for other less commercial students’ unions. 

Now with a new Chief Executive at the helm, Harper Adams Students’ Union is set to reinvent itself by taking advantage of the MSL System® to broaden its service provision, digitise its manual processes and develop staff resources to keep pace with the changing demands of members.

HASU and student engagement

With the majority of first years living on campus, the Students’ Union plays an important role in offering a venue close by and regular opportunities for student members to get together. The bar, gym, clubs and societies provide activities and a wide range of extra-curricular experiences, with the bar contributing a significant proportion of the funds available to the Union.

HASU staff use the MSL System to drive their membership management, events and student group programmes but, to date, this has been the extent of the student engagement initiatives. Whilst HASU is one of the smaller students’ unions, its commercially strong background (in 2018-19 alone, it sold 33,000 tickets for events) gives it the means to modernise and expand its engagement activities and member services, a plan which Ali Burr, who joined HASU as Chief Executive in May 2019, is now working on:

"Harper Adams Students' Union has typically been a very events and commercial services driven organisation, with expectations of the SU to only provide events and balls for our members. Over the next three years, developing our student voice structures and programmes will be our key priority. Unlocking the potential of MSL will allow our small union push the boundaries at Harper Adams and really engage and support our students."

Expanding and digitising services

As well as prioritising Student Voice to shape and inform HASU’s activities through the MSL System’s surveys, polls, idea lists and forum features, student welfare has become a priority and Burr recognises the need for independent advice and advocacy provision to run alongside the service provided by the university. MSL’s Student Case Manager will be considered to fill this gap in the Union’s service roster as it provides a secure environment to support members without sharing data with the University.

The 35 clubs and societies based on campus also play a vital role in student welfare providing participation and inclusivity for all members. But the administration involved in supporting these groups has, historically, been hugely time consuming. When Burr arrived at HASU, all expense, invoice and grant requests generated by the student groups followed a paper-based process requiring days of data entry every week by finance staff. These processes are now being fully digitised using MSL’s Student Group Finances and Grant Applications to provide greatly improved services for students and the opportunity to re-focus staff resources:

"The MSL Student Group Finances and Grants modules will help develop and enhance our services. Gone are the days of paper purchase orders and complicated finance systems. Students will be able to electronically submit student group expenses and grant funding requests and follow their progress in the system from the comfort of their halls/residences. The new system will free up to 3 days of week of finance/admin duties, which we are dedicated to reinvesting into our student groups and student voice activities."

Developing the HASU team

Whilst much of the emphasis is on the benefits for members that will come from digitising and expanding services, the HASU team will also reap the benefits of a modernised organisation. The HASU team is currently a small and, through necessity, a multi-skilled one; its eight members comprises full time staff and sabbatical officers who are tasked with running everything from the website, marketing, events, venue door security, finance and clubs and societies. External resource has been relied upon for additional support with the finance function and many day-to-day manual tasks are spread across the team. However, as more of the MSL System is exploited, the team will utilise digital resources to free them from many repetitive manual processes and offer more opportunities for development in their roles.

The MSL System benefits for HASU

  • Enhanced Student Voice provision
  • Greater relationship/communication with members
  • Enhancement to services through MSL Student Group Finances
  • Reduction in finance departmental admin (potentially 3 days a week)
  • Increased membership engagement and satisfaction
  • A digital Students Union which is fit for purpose for its members
"MSL is delighted to partner with HASU on their digital transformation journey. We look forward to seeing their continuing success as they use our market leading platform to improve their student experience, make the most effective use of income for the benefit of their members and free staff from mundane aspects of workload to focus on the more meaningful delivery activities they do best." - Gary Bryant, CEO, MSL

 

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