University of Western Sydney accesses market insights in hours

The University of Western Sydney (UWS) is a research-led university with six campuses spanning across Greater Western Sydney. UWS is top-ranked institution, serving over 40,000 students in the region.

Higher education regulations in Australia are changing. To remain competitive, UWS uses Tableau to monitor the education market in Sydney. With Tableau, UWS has been able to:

  • Conduct geographic analysis on the Sydney market
  • Build a pricing model to plan for future changes
  • Make data easy and accessible for university employees
  • Save employees weeks in survey analysis time

Tableau: Has higher education in Australia changed over the course of the years?
Neil Durrant, Associate Director, Business Intelligence and Institutional Research: We're in a really interesting situation at the moment in Australian higher education because it's gradually being deregulated.

It used to be that the universities kind of had a cap on student numbers. And so every university would just kind of fill their quota, and that would be it. There's competition for different kinds of students, but really, in terms of numbers, sheer numbers, everyone just went to their quota and that was it.

Tableau: And how does that compare to now?
Neil: That was removed in 2012. So there's a bit more competition between us. You could have as many students as you could manage. So the universities started competing harder for students.

And right now, there's a bill before our parliament to sort of deregulate higher education further and allow universities to set their own price. So there will be even further competition.

Tableau: How have those changes impacted UWS?
Neil: There's a whole bunch of things that we have to know now that we didn't need to know before.

One of the things that we have done is we've looked at geographic kind of analysis of the market in Sydney.

It really helped people to plan what they're going to offer where. So some of those market dynamics have been really interesting.

Tableau: How has UWS used Tableau to prepare for these changes?
Neil: The other interesting thing that we've done with Tableau, which is not really a visualization thing, but we've had to go through a process of thinking about what prices we might set when the deregulation happens. And we've had some models built in Excel that produce some outputs in terms of the competition for students if we went to this price, what we might lose, what we might gain, et cetera.

Tableau: What does that look like in Tableau?
Neil: I wanted to make that stuff easily available and accessible. So I built the model in Tableau, the pricing model, which has got a lot of calculations and it's got a lot of numbers, but it gives people that interactivity. A school dean, for example, could just check out his school and see if he set a particular price, what the consequences might be for revenue, for cost, for profitability, for student intake.

Tableau: What other UWS groups are using Tableau?
Neil: There's a committee responsible for the student experience. Typically, we have this commencing student survey that we run every year that goes out to 8,000 students. And it used to be that we'd have an analysis of the commencing student sentiment by sort of three-quarters of the way through the year, which is a bit too late really to do anything for them.

What used to happen is the chair of the student experience committee would sort of print out a couple hundred pages of survey comments and take them home and read them over the weekend and, in their mind, try to figure out what the themes were or what things we could have tried to address for our commencing students.

Tableau: And how are you tracking that in Tableau?
Neil: One of the things we did do was try to visualize survey responses using Tableau. And we've also got IBM just text analytics underneath, which sort of reads all the free text comments and classifies them into groups. So we came up with a design to visualize that.

Tableau: What benefits have you seen?
Neil: You can imagine, by the time all that's done, they're not commencing students anymore. So what we've done is we've turned that around to the sixth or seventh week of the first semester. We have some results available and all those survey comments visualized. And so people can see at a glance for a particular course what the best aspects are, what the worst aspects are, what needs improvement, what students are sort of dealing with at that particular time in the first four weeks of their experience.

The committee has got access now that they just never had before. It enables us to formulate responses and try to address students' concerns much faster.

Tableau: How much time have you saved?
Neil: If you multiply that out—70 or 80 people spending a couple of days spread out over maybe a couple of weeks. Then trying to just get the baseline sorted for them to think about how to write a report on the course performance.

We now have a process where we have one analyst who spends a few weeks putting the back-end data together. Using Alteryx too—it's really a couple of hours for one person to get all of that published into a dashboard that is accessible.

We now have a process where we have one analyst who spends a few weeks putting the back-end data together. Using Alteryx too—it’s really a couple of hours for one person to get all of that published into a dashboard that is accessible.

Tableau: How do employees interact with that dashboard?
Neil: If they set a different price, it'll change and show them the consequences of that price.

So if we come up with a new pricing scheme, we can very easily update all of that and have that available.

So that's been a brand new thing that we've done, which I think is pretty cool and really relevant to the university as it sort of tries to navigate these new environments.

Tableau: Has Tableau set you up for future changes?
Neil: With the changes to the higher-education environment, we are going to have to take a more businesslike approach. So I see Tableau as well as our other parts of the BI platform, as providing that businesslike information for managing the university

Tableau: What are your plans for the future?
Neil: The next big thing for us is trying to provide the school, faculty executive management, with that single point of access for the data that they need to manage their part of the organization effectively.