In the midst of funding cuts and ever tighter budgets, Higher Education institutions are faced with a challenge.

  • How can they support students at every stage, from initial application to graduation day?
  • How can they provide the quality of services that students demand?
  • How can they stand out in an increasingly competitive Higher Education market, where student expectations have never been greater?

The challenges might be complex and multifaceted, but new technologies can go a long way towards easing these burdens. If you've not yet considered automation strategies as a solution to student support, then it's time to start the conversation... How? With conversational AI.

What is conversational AI?

Even if you're not quite sure what the term means, you're almost guaranteed to have come across conversational AI applications in your everyday life. When we speak to voice activated assistants such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, or when we use chatbots as part of customer service enquiries online, we are engaging with conversational AI systems.

The benefits of this technology are easy to understand, since it harnesses a natural human communication method – conversation – to automate the delivery of information. Conversational AI applications free up a team's time, drive efficiency, and improve the accuracy of information that users receive.

So what are some of the practical applications for conversational AI in Higher Education now?

Here we outline three relevant, action-orientated steps you can take to support students with conversational AI applications.

1) Reducing the stress of Clearing

Whether through preference or because they didn't reach their expected grades, record numbers of prospective students are now applying for university places through Clearing. This process requires university admissions teams to deal with large volumes of enquiries in a short space of time, with students approaching institutions on an individual basis until they are accepted onto a course that's right for them.

Chatbots can store information – and answer questions about - all of a university's various courses, admissions criteria and availability. This gives students easy access to the precise information they need – saving admissions staff time that would otherwise be spent on the phone.

This kind of automation significantly reduces the time between a prospective student's first contact with a Higher Education institution and an offer being made – relieving some of the stress of the Clearing process.

Want to see how it works in practice?
Try a demo of a Clearing chatbot.

2) Improving student welfare

More students than ever are reporting mental health difficulties, but sadly, most universities simply don't have the resources to cope. This is leaving vulnerable students without the support they need.

With both staff and students frequently unaware about the services that are available, many wellbeing support staff hours are spent answering queries, and students often turn up at the wrong kind of facilities expecting help.

Chatbots are a cohesive solution to this issue. Their ability to collate, store, and provide instant access to all of a university's resources around mental health broadens the reach of support. It ensures that any student or staff member with a concern – for themselves or others – receives up to date advice on what to do. This is particularly important for emergencies and out of hours, when traditional services are unavailable.

Welfare chatbots are increasingly being seen as a viable tool in a mental health crisis that is currently being borne by students and the staff tasked with taking care of their wellbeing, but who often lack the knowledge and resources to do so.

3) Have a question? Ask the campus concierge

If a student wants to know when the library is open, where do they look? What about the availability of sports facilities, meal times, or medical treatment?

The chances are, this information is stored in the depths of a variety of different university and departmental websites, and it may be out of date. For a student simply trying to go about their normal life, there's nothing more frustrating than being unable to find answers on the existence and availability of facilities and services.

This is where conversational AI can help. A campus concierge chatbot is the perfect, centralised service for responding to student enquiries around their everyday needs. By providing this single, go-to information service, universities can unify their communication strategies for students and staff, who will no longer have to rely on Google, log in to clunky intranets, or sift through piecemeal information around the web.

No more wasted trips to the library on a bank holiday, and a way of instantly reporting that broken sink? Concierge chatbots really can be a one stop shop for information and practical support on campus.

Next steps

Conversational AI can make a difference - fast. In fact, it's possible to have simple solutions go live in as little as eight weeks.

Perhaps most importantly, it can be tailored specifically to the issue in hand, from helping students navigate the application process to broadening access to wellbeing services, with demonstrable return on investment.

If you're interested in the benefits conversational AI can bring to your organisation, or would like to know more, then we've got a proven track record in delivering successful solutions.

Find out how to use conversational AI-powered chatbots to optimise student recruitment & deliver better experiences for students and staff in our forthcoming higher education webinar.