How fintech is helping universities prepare for the future

From my perspective, one striking feature of the digital age that we’ve been experiencing in recent years stands out among the rest: new and improved ways of paying for things, ranging from your morning coffee to a mortgage, have emerged seemingly on an almost daily basis.

This is likely due in large part to the rise in various fintech advancements that have expanded our conception of what’s possible when it comes to person-to-person and person-to-business transactions. There are now more payment options for a range of products and services offering flexibility and choice to consumers who now want payment services that are instantaneous and easy.

However, one sector in particular has faced challenges integrating these payment innovations–the higher education world, specifically when supporting the growing number of international students wanting to pay their tuition fees.

Across the world, there are a large variety of payment options for international students–from Alipay in China, to NetBanking in India. For universities accepting payments from these different markets it can be hard to know which options to offer, and this may lead to a large gap in how students can pay for their tuition–either with too few or too many payment services to choose from.

A selection of focus groups with international students in 2017 revealed that many were put off by the tuition payment process because they simply couldn’t use the university’s preferred payment method in their region. Our research also showed that American universities were grappling with the same issue–almost half (49 percent) of higher-education institutions in the U.S. are unable to offer the convenient payment method for international students, with 35 percent stating negative feedback from students was a challenge in international tuition acceptance. This friction can ultimately have a negative impact on student experience at the university, while also burdening the university finance teams with additional admin and stress.

At Western Union, we’re taking steps to try to solve this setback for higher education institutes and students, and are constantly working to offer innovative and trusted online payment methods to students and educational institutions around the world. This can make it easy for students to pay in a familiar way, and it also may help to make the reconciliation and processing of payments simple for the university’s finance teams too. In this way, we strive to compliment the university’s growth strategy so it can work to increase and diversify the number of international students studying there.

The need for the right payment technology will only become more important, as there has been a steady increase in the number of international students studying abroad in recent years. The State Department cites the U.S. hosted nearly 1.1 million international students last year, and they expect that number to rise steadily over the next decade.

To make sure we’re supporting this growth, we have expanded our partnerships with banking solutions across the world, one example being one of India’s leading online banking solutions–NetBanking–to help these students pay their tuition fees seamlessly. Also, to address the demand from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Brazil, we’ve recently expanded our WU® GlobalPay for Students platform in these markets so that students can pay their fees online and in their local currency.
Digital payments may not only provide students with a flexible and reliable service, but there may also be a tangible business benefit for universities in using innovative payment platforms. In the U.S. alone, an average of 74 working days may be lost annually per institution to matching, processing and reconciling these payments, according to our recent survey with universities’ finance and admissions teams .

What’s clear is that the transformation of payment methods and financial technology, as well as consumer expectations, has transformed the education sector, and universities are increasingly looking for ways to improve their operational efficiencies and make financial savings, while still attracting the best talent in this challenging environment. Innovative payment methods offer a wealth of solutions.

By partnering with an innovative payments partner now, higher-education institutions work to future-proof themselves for years to come, not only making them more efficient and cost-effective, but the digital foundation and seamless user experience can may also help attract some of the best talent to their campuses.

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