The UK higher education sector is one of the most international in the world; however in some cases payment processes can cause stress and confusion for EU students, and also problems and inefficiencies for the university.
How do students from EU countries pay for their tuition and accommodation fees?
What creates the most problems for EU students when making payments to UK universities?
And what could universities do to make the payment process easier?
These are some of the questions WPM Education sought to answer in their latest research initiative. In late 2018, DJS Research (on behalf of WPM) conducted a series of focus groups to explore experiences and attitudes towards payment of tuition and accommodation fees.
The aim was to better understand the issues which arise for the circa 139,000 EU students in the UK – that’s 30% of all non-UK students.
What were the key findings?
1. The ‘Pressure Cooker’
Some institutions are creating a ‘pressure cooker’ situation by putting in place payment processes and methods that create a highly stressful situation for students (and other payers) and university staff physically facilitating the payments.
This situation is created when universities encourage payment by a method that requires a UK bank account, as this process can only be started once an EU student has arrived in the UK. Paying tuition or accommodation fees therefore necessitates a number of steps (getting a bank letter, opening a bank account, setting up a payment plan) that has to be carried out sequentially, often face-to-face, at the same time as lots of other students and with the pressure of a payment deadline relatively soon after they arrive in the UK.
“You can’t just get a bank letter from the university whenever you want it.”
2. The Rise of Digital Banking
Although only a significant minority of EU students are using digital banking at present, the proposition was seen as unanimously appealing, for a number of reasons including:
- Digital banking apps allow clear budget tracking
- Digital accounts can often be set up online from the students’ home country
- The easy conversion between major currencies at comparably low fees
This digital banking revolution is creating a gap between how the student/payer expects to be able to pay and the actual payment experience which can lead to dissatisfaction.
“Our generation doesn’t like to go to banks! I don’t like to queue up and I think the bank system here (in the UK) is quite outdated.”
3. The changing role of finance
The majority of students and payers want to take control of the payment process which potentially could change the role of finance.
How to create a better payment experience
Digital banking enables students (and other payers) to take control of the payment process, removing much of the ‘pain’ associated with the pressure cooker situation for both payers and finance staff. Paying online through a digital account enables a more streamlined payment process and reduces stress as payments can be made more easily and quickly.
Throughout the research, it has been found that students only complain about a lack of payment options if what is on offer isn’t fit for purpose, causing anxiety for the payer and inefficiencies in the finance function.
The whitepaper ‘Insights into the Payment Experiences of EU Students’ delves deeper into the key findings and future considerations to improve the payer experience, streamline the process and create back office efficiencies.
Research at WPM Education
Research plays a key role at WPM, helping to understand the needs and dynamics of the sector.
WPM Education have also run focus groups for international students and you can read more about the findings in the report ‘Insights into the Payment Experiences of International Students’.