NXT\ partnered with the University of South Africa (UNISA) to create application and registration awareness and efficiencies for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 years and provided UNISA with a fully integrated campaign and media reporting system, with a full spectrum digital campaign dashboard called the UNISA Deck.
As one of the world’s mega universities and Africa’s leading open distance learning institution, UNISA has inspired a multitude of future African leaders. Offering reputable, comprehensive, flexible and accessible qualifications – UNISA has shown true commitment to finding solutions to Africa’s vast educational and developmental problems.
Few universities have a student profile as dynamic and diverse as UNISA’s - whether seen from the point of view of race, gender, age, nationality or occupational status. Although traditionally the institution’s main target market has been adults, with the growing number of high school learners entering full time jobs straight out of school, the number of young adults registering for courses with the institution is rapidly increasing.
With so many students registering with the institution every year, one of the biggest challenges facing UNISA is the administrative process of managing student registrations, in an effort to identify and retain quality students who have the aptitude and financial support to complete a university degree. The problem facing such open distance learning universities is that many students register for courses but never actually pay their tuition fees or even complete the required course-work. Not only does this burden the university financially, the phenomenon also results in more capable students being denied a rightful place within degree programmes, because on the surface, courses appear fully booked.
To circumvent this and in an effort to streamline this process, administrative officials at UNISA implemented a digital programme between 2008 and 2011, in which prospective students needed to first apply for an opportunity to register with the institution. Called the AB4R (apply before registering) initiative, UNISA approached award winning digital convergence agency - NXT\ Digital Innovation, to assist with the development and implementation of an interactive digital platform that would inspire, motivate, stimulate and encourage quality applications – which would then be reviewed before student registration was granted.
Called the UNISA Media Deck, NXT\ developed an innovative digital platform that allowed students to easily apply for registration, via a wide spectrum of channels, which included mobile, online and social media.
To drive attention to the AB4R initiative and the digital application platforms, the university executed an above-the-line advertising campaign that targeted all forms of traditional media. These included: billboards, magazines, newspapers, radio and television. In each advert, the public was encouraged to participate in the application process by either visiting the UNISA website or by simply sending a SMS. Since 1999, every cell phone in the world is SMS capable, making the SMS platform the fastest growing method of student application.
This first level of communication with students enabled the university to build a detailed student database. This information in turn allowed UNISA to communicate directly with applicants so that the university might inform them of the status of their application and\or send a reminder SMS of application deadlines. If successful, the university was able to provide further registration information via the various channels, and these would’ve included reminders and alert services as to when registration opened, exactly where students needed to be in order to register and what documentation they needed to bring with them to complete the procedure.
In addition to receiving and distributing information, the Media Deck reporting platform also allowed UNISA to effectively note, observe and understand the successes of the AB4R campaign, as well as the results. By providing clear and insightful data from each active communication channel, the university was able to view real-time reports with a single view of the campaign activity for easy decision-making, campaign management and realignment.
Introduced in 2008, the digital strategy designed for UNISA grew from strength to strength in the years that followed. Allowing UNISA to measure return on investment and follow the AB4R campaign performance in real time, the organisation was able to reach an extraordinary number of successful applications. For the 2011 student registration, the universities target for applications was set at 75 000. A total of 91 846 applications were received in the end. Of these applications, many translated into quality registrations.
The impact of Media Deck on UNISA’s administrative challenges were significant; among other benefits it also allowed the educational institution to distribute human resources to other support systems within the institution’s operations.
Technology has opened many gates of opportunity for universities around the world. Understanding how to embrace these technologies is an essential part of the future growth and success of long distance learning institutions. With the advent of digital media, all South Africans can now easily and quickly register with the likes of UNISA and begin their journey to fulfilling their dreams.