Adelina Veleva

Rise of the Student Experience Officer

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The past few years have seen a mushrooming of roles around student experience at universities. Even before the global pandemic brought student wellbeing and mental health into such sharp focus, universities were hiring for relatively new roles that may not have existed a decade ago.

As these roles emerge and evolve, individual job postings and roles look quite different. Even the approaches to student experience between departments at the same university can vary widely.

Laura Stubbs, Student Experience Officer for Accounting and Finance, at the University of Bath says, ‘Student experience, as a concept, is really hard to define, because it covers everything from making sure the students don’t have to queue too long at the bus to get to university all the way through to that degree attainment, and it’s very wide ranging.’

Stubbs says that University management have come to value that Student Experience professionals have the inside track on what students are thinking.

‘By just hearing what they have to say you can have so many easy wins. And we’ve made so many smallish tweaks that haven’t really cost anybody anything, but they’ve made a massive difference to the students. Like this year, we introduced the reading week, because just the pressure of online learning was completely overwhelming. And they really appreciated it. And they felt listened to and valued’

Universities face increasing competition for top talent and student expectations are rising along with tuition fees. Edwin van Rest, CEO of Studyportals says ‘Students’ options are increasing and so is the importance of the ‘service level’ they receive. The war for talent is fierce and funding for higher education increasingly relies on private sources. Student centricity will become a key component to determine the future of any university – even those traditionally focused on research excellence’

Helen Murry, Student Experience Manager, College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham says,

‘Students are definitely expecting more year on year. The amount of money that you spend on a student experience officer equates to maybe, one student going through the university. If they have a real impact and boost satisfaction, then it kind of pays for itself quite quickly’

This trend runs alongside the increasing recognition of the importance of student experience at every point in the student journey. – not just as bookends with a chasm between orientation and graduation, says Christopher Connor, Assistant Dean and Chief Enrollment Officer for Graduate Education, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.

‘The funnel has exploded. There are many, many checkpoints in the funnel now. I think you’re seeing globally; student experience and student success are becoming visible as the driver for successful recruitment.’

Studyportals’ Global Student Satisfaction report 2021, due to be published in October is the only student-powered global university overview.  ‘With more than 60 thousand university experience reviews from students across the world. and all education institutes should be listening.’ says van Rest.

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