Keele University’s previous process for awarding funds to students involved applicants completing a paper application form, while staff collected multiple pieces of evidence in a range of formats, manually sorted through paperwork and liaised back and forth with students to chase missing evidence.
A student’s application would be split across multiple Excel spreadsheets and a number of paper documents – making it difficult for staff to keep track. The process also required a further time-intensive and manual task from staff, who frequently had to anonymise all spreadsheets and shred a huge amount of paper in line with GDPR guidelines.
A big appeal of the Blackbullion Funds Management System for Keele was that it would keep everything centralised in one secure and fully GDPR compliant place.
“We needed to find a way to streamline the financial support process and make our process more efficient. The Funds Management System has enabled us to achieve this.”
- Centralise the financial support process and ensure all information is stored in one secure, GDPR compliant place
- Save time for staff and students and lessen the need for back and forth communication
- Introduce a digital process to reduce manual admin, without disrupting the student experience
Solutions in use
They recognised immediately how the system could centralise and improve their financial support process, while saving time for both staff and students.
“The Funds Management System appeared at exactly the right time for us. I thought it would be amazing because we were using a very admin heavy, time-consuming process for financial support applications. We were looking at ways to rely more heavily on technology to cut down on time and manual admin.”
funds managed through Blackbullion
of funds processed since October 2020
Time saved with a centralised, secure process
Introducing a centralised and secure digital process has been a game changer for both Keele’s staff and students.
Students are now much clearer about how they check their eligibility and apply for financial support as everything is found in one place – the Funding Hub.
“Having multiple funds in the platform is easier for us to manage and also makes sense for students. If they’re looking to apply for a particular fund then they can also see any others they might be eligible for. It has worked really well.”
For staff, the benefits have been easy to measure in terms of saving time and reducing manual admin. There’s no longer a need for the on-campus desk staff to field applications, which previously proved “a nightmare” with different parts of a student’s application spread across multiple papers and split across staff members.
Not only are applications much easier for staff to manage now that everything is stored in one place, but security worries have also been eliminated. Blackbullion is committed to the highest privacy and data protection standards; the platform is fully GDPR compliant and two-factor authentication is required for extra security.
“The Funds Management System has made us more efficient as a team in processing applications, and the whole experience is much quicker for us now. It really has been a godsend. It has given us resilience and safeguarded our process, with no disruption for students.”
Easier staff collaboration and reduced admin
There are two Student Support Officers who process financial support applications at Keele and both have noticed significant impact from having everything stored in one place, that’s accessible from anywhere.
Before Blackbullion, it was much harder to collaborate on an application and answer student queries because all the information was stored only in the other’s head! Now, it’s seamless to pick up a case that was initially worked on by a colleague, thanks to the ability to check the status of an application in the platform. This has been particularly powerful while working remotely.
Due to the influx of applications this year, there’s also been the need to train a third member of staff. It’s their job to go through each application and check the student has submitted everything they need to, before marking it as ready for a Student Support Officer to make a decision on.
It has been quick to train this staff member on how to use the Funds Management System. And certain features have proved essential to the team’s needs, including the ability to change the status of an application and add team members to a case.
“It has been so easy to train someone else on how to use the platform; so much easier than it would have been if we’d had to train them on the previous paper-based process we were using.”
Improved student experience
Keele has seen an increased number of student applications for financial support over the last year. While there’s no doubt Covid has contributed to this, the university believes there would always have been a significant increase, as students continuously report the role Blackbullion plays in enabling them to discover eligible funds and how much they prefer the new process.
The accessibility of the Funds Management System has been a big contributor to improving the experience for students. Not only are all applicants provided with a simple-to-use, fully digital process, but the challenges of individual students are also addressed. For example, one student who struggles with using white paper and previously had to adopt an overlay to apply has called the Blackbullion application form “brilliant” and much easier for them to use.
“We used to get a lot of students coming to us complaining about how much information they needed to provide and the length of the form but we haven’t had any complaints at all about the Blackbullion process. I think this is because it’s all online and the digital form breaks the process down for the student one question at a time. It’s so much more accessible for students.”
Plans for the future
Keele are one of Blackbullion’s longest-standing partners and the university has plans to further develop their use of the platform.
They’re currently looking into how they can condense more of the university’s support options and make them available to students through the Funds Management System. Ideally, Keele would like all applications for every type of support (not just financial) to be centralised in the system. This will continue to improve the student experience by streamlining all types of support, as well as save even more time for staff.
Keele are also interested in exploring the Fund Management System’s new Instant Payments feature to deliver financial support to the students who need it even faster, reducing the likelihood of students turning to riskier ways of securing additional income while waiting for a funds transfer.
“Blackbullion is so embedded in the university and is being used by other departments too – like the recruitment team. It falls into so many areas of university life. Using the Funds Management System felt like the natural next step to follow our use of the Financial Wellbeing Platform.”