In our countless presentations and discussions with students, we are forever telling them to ‘let technology do the heavy lifting’ when it comes to managing their money. And yesterday, as I sat on the panel at Universities UK’s Access, participation and student success conference 2023, I realised just how true that statement is for universities as well.
So many processes on campus are still analogue, or analogue adjacent, that I wanted to whip up this quick blog with a few thoughts. Not just because technology can reduce the unnecessary admin ‘time suck’ burden on staff but also because technology can, sometimes, help ensure greater support efficacy and efficiency.
For five years now, we at Blackbullion have been talking to staff and students from universities and colleges across the UK and beyond (we’ve even hired a few of them!). And what has become clear to us is that there are some pinch-points that, if addressed, can:
- Help staff better support students and;
- Free up staff’s time and focus – a challenge that every staff member on every campus has told us they constantly face (and is only getting worse year-on-year)
So, in response to this, collaboratively with staff across the UK, we set about to build something to solve the pinch-points and achieve these two goals. The result? We invested heavily in building a Funds Management System (FMS) designed specifically and exclusively for higher education, so that staff can let technology do the heavy lifting, too.
So, as I sat yesterday listening to the terrific Josh Freeman from HEPI outline the challenges universities are facing in distributing funding, it was so tempting to shout out, “it doesn’t need to be that hard!”. You’ll be pleased to know I didn’t do so.
Instead, I want to share my thoughts with you now.
Here’s how I know that we can help you solve the problems Josh highlighted:
1. Making it easier for students to apply for funding doesn’t need to be hard
The FMS has been built to reflect:
- The complexity of student funding
- The many different types of funds available
- The differing requirements each university has
- The different challenges students might face
- The accessibility imperative and the fact that most students who apply for financial support are stressed and overwhelmed and likely in financial distress.
The result is a world-class, end-to-end solution for anyone providing funding to students. This includes universities, colleges and also the growing number of corporate partners we are working with, who are creating scholarships and bursaries to support students from all backgrounds looking to build all kinds of careers.
What students see is Blackbullion’s Funding Hub – the central place for all student funds, including those from their place of study as well as from our corporate partners. When applying for a fund, scholarship or bursary, the customisable application forms ask students for only the information that is needed to assess their eligibility, with guidance for the applicant every step of the way.
We have also recently introduced Open Banking technology to the application process. This gives students the option to connect their bank account to their application to provide bank statement-related evidence automatically. This means that students can complete this step in 3-5 minutes, compared to an average of 40 minutes doing it manually! It’s no wonder that out of the thousands of students who were given the option to use Open Banking, 90% have chosen to do so…
2. Distribution logistics don’t need to be difficult either
Nope. The last stop in the funding process is the payment of the money. Following an approved application, our Instant Payments functionality means that depositing much-needed funds into a student bank account takes moments, not weeks. The money can then be spent as the student feels most appropriate for their needs.
3. Blanket support is easiest… or is it?
Nope. While a blanket funding approach is (historically!) easiest from a logistical point of view when using antiquated systems, the FMS enables easy sophistication and tranching of funding with ease.
With limited funding available, it is more effective to give the students who are in financial distress more money when it’s needed because it could make the difference between them being able to continue their studies… or not. Otherwise we risk a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to funding, where it is assumed all students can get by on the same, small amount of student funding.
Using the FMS, a university can easily determine the students who are in financial distress and ensure that the right level of support is provided. With the FMS, the complex parts of the fund management process are made simple – to not only save staff significant time*, but to also ensure that the right funding reaches the students that need it most.
*Last year, the FMS sent out over 500k automated emails to students on behalf of the staff members at universities and colleges who are using it to manage their institution’s support funds. In doing so, saving these staff members from having to send the emails manually, which would have collectively taken a staggering 1,119 working days. Or in other words, the equivalent of sending emails all day every work day for 3 years!
I’d love to chat; if you want to find out more, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, you can learn more about the FMS here.