June 2021 - "MSL has provided MSA a platform to engage and interact with students whilst developing the student Office Bearers skills. At current stage, we have more than 20,000 memberships and the list continues to grow as we continue to deliver and improve our services in this challenging time." - Sylvia Francisca, Finance Director, Monash Student Association
Monash Student Association (MSA) is the peak student body of Monash University based at the Clayton campus. Alongside its counterparts at Caulfield, Peninsula and Parkville campuses, MSA offers a variety of opportunities to get involved with activities outside of academic pursuits, with the most popular form of participation being student lead clubs.
In pre-Covid times, MSA engaged with some 15,000 students on a regular basis, the majority through the 100+ student-lead clubs at Clayton that it supports with grants and business compliance advice. Memberships could be bought online and in person with the split of purchases around 30/70 for each channel. However, as Covid drove all memberships online, MSA realised that participation was dropping off as students faced a lengthy application form to first register an account before they could join a club.
MSA needed to find a streamlined digital solution fast and, turning to their Caulfield and Peninsula colleagues for ideas, they found that solution in the form of the MSL System already proven at the two Monash Students’ Union sites.
Digital engagement without reinventing the wheel
The MSL System came thoroughly tried and tested and, crucially, was designed to work with existing student data and a single sign on process. As Sylvia Francisca, Finance Director and lead for the digital engagement project, explains:
We already had Single Sign On in place so it made sense to find a solution that made use of our SSO and was also an established system designed around the unique digital engagement needs of students. The MSL System fitted the bill exactly and meant that we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel to make everything happen.
The new platform would help MSA achieve some additional goals hastened by the pandemic - moving to cash-less transactions, using QR codes to help students quickly find clubs and membership information, and removing the need for staff to be on hand to manually process membership applications.
MSA set a tight implementation plan of three months from selecting a solution to having the system ready for students to use. So in October 2020 the MSA and MSL teams began work together and by February 2021, 107 student-lead clubs were welcomed to their new digital home with all the resources they needed to promote activities, sell memberships, club items and engage directly with members.
Developing hands on skills in a digital environment
The clubs at MSA are independent organisations, supported and mentored by the MSA team but not run by them.
It’s our mission to give committee members the opportunity to develop new skills and leadership experience to take with them beyond university and so MSA offers training to these student leaders to help them with the basic skills of running an organisation. - Sylvia Francisca, Finance Director
Historically, the University hasn’t formally recognised the skills that students gain through the voluntary hours they put into clubs alongside their academic achievements. So MSA makes use of the reporting available from the MSL System to demonstrate the impact of clubs on participation, engagement and skills development.
To further support this impact reporting, MSA has prioritised the implementation of MSL Attendance which will allow MSA and the clubs to track individual members arriving at and leaving specific events and activities, and the split between under- and post-graduate engagement with activities.
The enthusiasm shown by clubs for their new online presence has really shone a light on everything student committees do and so the MSL Volunteering & Employability module is likely to be implemented in the not too distant future. We really want our student leaders to be able to showcase the skills they gain and this will help them to do that as they prepare for life outside university. - Sylvia Francisca, Finance Director
A digitally-connected future
With the MSL System now in place and positive feedback from student leaders, committees and staff, MSA has plans to add more digital engagement tools to their platform.
First on the list are online elections for both club committee and sabbatical officers to ensure ease of participation for both nominees and voters. The next elections will take place during September and October 2021 and so plans are being formulated for a smooth roll out of the next phase of MSA’s digital transformation using the MSL Elections module. This may include the students’ unions at Caulfield and Peninsula joining forces with MSA to offer a truly connected experience for all Monash students wherever they are based.
And after that?
With the challenges faced by all in higher education during the pandemic, advice and advocacy services provided by MSA have been busy handling many new types of issues faced by students. New requirements and regulations have come into force to ensure the continued wellbeing and safety of MSA students and the team is now considering how MSL Student Case Manager can support these obligations.
MSL has provided MSA a platform to engage and interact with students whilst developing the student Office Bearers skills. At current stage, we have more than 20,000 memberships and the list continues to grow as we continue to deliver and improve our services in this challenging time. - Sylvia Francisca, Finance Director