Championing a student-first approach

JCU’s chief operating officer Kelvin Liu believes the campus' "Students First" approach helps in improving students' learning experience.
JCU’s chief operating officer Kelvin Liu believes the campus' "Students First" approach helps in improving students' learning experience.PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Organisational culture and top-level decision-making decide business outcomes, which ultimately impact end users.

In the case of universities, students are affected by core business decision-making outcomes. 

To ensure that its students’ needs are prioritised during the business decision-making process, the Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU) actively lives up to its slogan“Student First”, which has remained unchanged for 15 years.

JCU’s chief operating officer Kelvin Liu, who is celebrating his 10th year with the university this year, shares how this approach guides staff and teachers in ensuring students get the most out of their university experience. 

What is the “Student First” approach at JCU? How is this mantra demonstrated by the corporate staff?

‘Student First’ is not simply a slogan — it is an ongoing concept, although the context continually shifts within the university. 

At the corporate level, we prefer to give our staff full ownership of their roles, encouraging them to interpret the ‘Student First’ concept in relation to their roles. 

For instance, the purchasing department is a purely corporate function that has no direct contact with the students. Yet, the staff remain mindful of the ‘Student First’ culture while performing their jobs by regularly spearheading new initiatives in this vein. 

Recent examples include arranging for a Medical Checkup vehicle on campus, organising laptop road shows, and creating student privilege programmes through JCU’s purchasing network and negotiation power — all of which put our students’ interests first.

JCU has also set up an exclusive Student Services department. How does this initiative cater to students’ needs?

The department provides one-stop services to our students, assisting them with general matters from the day they enrol until they graduate. 

It essentially acts as a point of contact between students and the university. When it is unable to directly assist a student, the department acts as a coordinator with other departments until the case is closed. 

With this system in place, students can focus on getting the most out of their university experience instead of having to navigate the university’s administrative processes.

How has the “Student First” approach impacted the ways in which JCU staff engage students in the mobile or social space?

We understand that our students are mostly from a mobile-first generation, and expect quick, almost instantaneous responses. 

They tend to be more engaged on social media than traditional modes of communication, unlike more mature staff members. 

To better connect with students, we have adapted to meet their preferred mode of communication by engaging with them via e-mail, Facebook and instant messaging apps on a regular basis.

In May, we also established the open dialogue feedback session. We plan to hold more sessions in future.

Can you elaborate on JCU’s open dialogue feedback sessions with students?

In the past, we received anonymous feedback. As there was no way to clarify or evaluate the limited information provided, this made it very hard to take actionable measures.

At our open dialogue feedback sessions, department heads meet students personally to receive first-hand feedback. This gives us the opportunity to go into the details in order to take adequate action based on the information we receive.

At the same time, students receive an immediate response from the relevant department head(s) during these sessions, which address their concerns.

We have also set up an online feedback system that allows our students to send us feedback anytime, anywhere. 

As a result of these measures, student satisfaction rates have climbed to 96 per cent as of June this year. 

JCU has also recently integrated its two campuses into one campus at Sims Drive. How is the “Student First”philosophy evident in this new campus?

We have invested significantly in the Sims Drive campus, creating a conducive learning environment with upgraded and new facilities, including an environmental sciences and aquaculture lab. 

In addition, we have scheduled regular maintenance sessions to ensure our facilities are state-of-the-art yet user-friendly. 

The integrated campus also makes it easy for the 27 Student Clubs and Student Council to gather for extra-curricular activities. 

How does JCU prioritise students’ career goals upon graduation?

JCU provides the fast track learning mode through the use of an innovative scheduling system with three trimesters a year. 

As a result, we have not one or two, but three Career Fairs that coincide with our graduation periods — one being a virtual fair to offer an additional platform for greater engagement. 

Besides the Career Fair, we also work closely with our industry partners such as CPA Australia, Australia-Chinese Alumni Association,and others to open up internship and career opportunities for our students in Singapore and around the world. 

For instance, we recently sent two of our students to Japan for an internship in the hospitality industry.

Mr Liu celebrates his 10th year at JCU. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG 

Moving forward, how do you intend to keep the “Student First” mindset burning bright at JCU?

One of the ways in which we continually review our performance is by engaging an independent research company to conduct a graduate employment survey. 

We also survey employers to better understand our graduates’ performance, strengths,and are as for improvement. 

This survey data is tremendously useful in helping us to evaluate and improve on our academic and Student Career support services such as soft skills training, CV preparation, Career Training workshops, and so on. 

This allows us to look into better ways of improving the student experience at JCU.

While JCU has already achieved excellence by obtaining the EduTrust Star and the Singapore Quality Class STAR, my ultimate goal is to benchmark our services with that of other universities and private education institutions to establish an industry standard and best practice to benefit all students in Singapore.

Lastly, I would like to see JCU adopt the Singapore Quality Class (Services) to standardise our services and hold them to even higher standards.