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When Keele University Students’ Union reviewed the admin tasks undertaken by SU staff in ensuring its 300+ clubs and societies expenses were accurately managed and no student committee member was out of pocket, they found that the predominantly paper-based expenses system was proving to be time consuming for staff and cumbersome for students to manage.
Fast forward three years and the decision made in 2018 to bring the entire process online using MSL’s Student Group Finances system has streamlined the finance team’s tasks and saved 20+ hours of staff time across the multiple departments involved with student group activities.
- Over 20 hours per week of staff time saved (across all departments)
- Over £400,000 worth of expense and money requests processed completely online
- Over 200 events and activities supported
"MSL Student Group Finances has had a huge impact on the way we operate student opportunities. It has created an easy and consistent approach to managing student group budgets which students have really embraced and, for staff, it has eased processes and reduced the paperwork." - Keele SU Activities
The role of student groups at Keele SU
Keele Students’ Union is proud of the part its clubs and societies play in meeting student engagement and participation objectives. During the last full academic year of 2018-19, pre-Covid, 4,823 students were members of student-led groups ranging from academic societies and sports clubs to more esoteric interest groups such as tea appreciation and baton twirling.
One of the projects detailed in the SU’s Strategic Plan is ‘Active Lifestyles’. Working with student groups, the SU is finding more ways to remove barriers to participation, make it easier for students to try out new activities and lead an active lifestyle. Whilst the goal of at least 10% more students engaging in student community opportunities by 2021 may be revised following the pandemic, Student Group Finances is still seen as a crucial part of student opportunities.
Overcoming admin burden
With so many active student groups and enthusiastic committees keen to offer members a variety of year-round activities, SU staff are invariably faced with an endless round of money requests, invoices and expense submissions. Prior to 2018, Keele SU, like the majority of unions, ran a primarily paper-based service alongside spreadsheets and a standalone finance package to manage these requests and the subsequent payments and reimbursements. Inevitably, paper forms were lost, damaged and completed incorrectly and so the whole request process would start again.
The impact on Finance staff time was immense and whilst processes were well-established, it was recognised that with a growing number of clubs and societies to support, the level of administration required could not be sustained.
"We would often have queues of students waiting to reclaim expenditure, or with a query about their balance. This has now significantly reduced and only students with genuine queries need to come in to finance. We had to post each expenditure form manually to our accounting system which was a huge task and took hours. Now, we import a report from MSL to our accounting system and a BACS file is created. This reduces the finance time spent on this task to around 10 minutes per week. As everything is online, we have completely eliminated cash given to students which saves more time and makes it safer as they are not on campus with large amounts of money." - Keele SU Finance
Putting paper processes online
Developed to support staff and committees, MSL Student Group Finances provides digital forms and workflow for income and expenditure requests, configurable workflows and notifications, uses up-to-date account balances direct from the organisations's finance system and provides access for staff and committee members using a stringent set of permissions.
In the summer of 2018, Keele SU began working with MSL to understand how their current manual processes could be transferred to a fully digital platform. By the autumn of that year, following extensive testing by staff and a select number of student groups, their new Student Group Finances system was implemented as a fully integrated module of their existing MSL System digital engagement platform.
"We were able to adapt Student Group Finances to our requirements...allowing different types of expenditure and payment methods to be included, making it clearer to use for students and staff. We did extensive testing and liaising for the project with the MSL team through to final implementation, and the day to day managing of the system is now done by our IT department, with MSL support
should we require it." - Keele SU Finance
The benefits for Keele Students’ Union
- Over 20 hours per week of staff time freed up with the move to digital processes.
- More than 300 clubs and societies use Student Group Finances.
- 200+ events and activities supported through Student Group Finances.
- Over £400,000 worth of expenses and money requests processed.
- Societies can request expenditure at any time of the day as it is online, minimising the need to physically come in to the SU buildings.
- Clearer and easier for clubs and societies to see their balance so they can assess how much they have to spend.
- Permanent electronic record of the expenditure, saving paper filing and quick and easy to search in MSL to check on the status of a transaction.
"Student Group Finances has benefited students by allowing them to claim expenses without travelling to campus and freed up SU staff time by having a set process with a weekly payment run." - Dave Brown, Head of Finance, Keele Students' Union