University black box cuts student visa processing time

Lancaster University is automating record keeping and information cross checking for oversees students that register at the organisation.

Lancaster University is using automation technology to comply with tighter UK Border Authority immigration checks.

The system is providing record keeping and information cross-checking for oversees students that register at the organisation.

This is part of a wider project to support the university in its role as a trusted sponsor on student visas, which saw the university decide to invest in IT. The investments have not only enabled the university to meet government set obligations but have made the organisation more efficient.

When the government, through the UK Border Authority (UKBA) tightened up its tier 4 immigration rules, which affects overseas students studying in the UK, many UK universities suddenly had a bigger workload to ensure they complied with the rules.

How Validate helps Lancaster University comply with UK Border Authority immigration rules

  • The TSSI system enables the university to meet its obligations as an HTS by identifying counterfeit ID  documentation, matching the registration data with application data scanned, interfacing with the student records system.
  • It provides the university with early alerts of when a student’s visa is close to expiry.
  • It enables the university to improve the efficiency of enrollment, data collection, record keeping and visa management for overseas students.
  • It keeps control of resources, reduces the amount of paper used, enables the cross referencing of disparate student data, keeps track of expired visas, and can identify students that do not turn up despite using the university as a sponsor.

The government introduced tougher rules to prevent bogus colleges becoming vehicles for gaining easy access to the UK. This is part of the government’s drive to cut overall immigration.

As part of the government’s tier 4 visa rules some universities were given Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status. This brought with it an extra administrative burden.

Ian Denny, head of registry operations at Lancaster University, says since being appointed an HTS the university had more work to do processing and managing student applications. “The first year the tier 4 rules came in we spent over three months inputting data."

At a time when universities are under budgetary pressure hiring more people was not an option.

 “We had to decide whether to throw staff and resources at the problem or look for an IT based solution,” said Denny. The university chose the latter.

He said the university decided to capture the entire student journey from application to graduation.

This required introducing procedures and IT system to manage and record the four main processes: application, registration, record keeping and monitoring.

All of these processes feed information into and extract information from the University’s in-house developed SQL Server database, called  LUSI - Lancaster University Student Information, which was originally developed in 1998.

Once student applies and is accepted on a course, as a HTS the university must ensure that applicants are genuine. This involves recording and cross checking visa and passport details.

To complete this previously onerous task Lancaster University is using a product from TSSI Systems known as Validate.

This black box as Denny calls it, scans and records the details of a passport.  Validate authenticates the passport, and updates LUSI. Something the university was not capable of doing even manually.

Denny said the TSSi system saves the university the equivalent cost of one full time employee but he added that this is an added bonus rather than the driver.

UK universities are investing in back office automation to reduce their costs. In the back office, where there is significant work required, there is an opportunity to make substantial savings and make institutions more effective at attracting, processing and retaining students.

The vast majority of higher education establishments still rely on paper-based processes to manage students from application to graduation and even beyond.  As a result it is estimated that up to 70% of a university's costs are human resources.

Universities across the UK have been making hundreds of redundancies with back offices being hit particularly hard.

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