Preparing for the Future of Higher Education

The pandemic has significantly impacted the landscape of higher education, as institutions have been forced to digitalise and shift to remote learning and remote working. Departments have learned new ways to connect and created more efficient processes.  While higher education institutions will return to in-person learning, it’s safe to assume that at least some of the changes brought on by the pandemic will be permanent and move the higher education ecosystem and experience forward.

In our recent webinar we looked at how higher education institutions are leveraging Docusign eSignature and seeing success as they move towards a paperless campus, with streamlined services for students and staff.  We look a little closer at how Sheffield Hallam University is using the tool, and answer questions from webinar attendees.

How to prepare for the future of higher education

As students have higher expectations in terms of digital engagement—higher education institutions must contend with ever-increasing competition as their enrollment declines and online learning options flourish. 

Today’s students have access to everything from free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and microcredentials, to sophisticated graduate programmes. Google’s new career certificates provide learners with a direct path to employment in fields like data analytics and project management in just six months.

Because digital technologies are so integrated into prospective students' day-to-day lives, they have higher expectations for educational institutions, particularly when it comes to ‘digital’. They sometimes see themselves as customers and so providing a smooth experience is something that’s becoming increasingly top of mind for higher education. 

In order to remain successful, universities need to improve efficiencies in order to do more with less. They will need to find new ways to increase revenue so they can secure research activities and other programmes. Most importantly, they will need to put the student experience at the centre of what they do in order to stay attractive for students and meet their needs and expectations in terms of course offerings as well as the services they offer. 

How Docusign supports digital transformation 

As contracts appear in every university, and generally in every organisation across the world—digitising this process is integral to digital transformation. For universities, contracts are everywhere; in front office functions and services like student services, admission, tuition, enrollment as well as back office such as HR, Facilities, and IT. 

The problem here is that for most universities and organisations, the contract process is broken. Managing contracts, from their creation until their signature and beyond typically rely on a series of manual and disconnected steps and processes. 

Shifting to e-signatures is an effective first step in digitising the agreement process, and universities across the world are seeing the benefits of Docusign eSignature. 

“When students and staff left campus in March 2020 we knew that we would need to quickly digitise our processes so that business could continue whilst we were working remotely. As existing users of Docusign we realised that we already had a tool that we could adapt to all aspects of the University lifecycle. We're now using Docusign for exam results verification, alumni donor agreements and legal documents. Even when we do return to campus we'll continue using Docusign eSignature because the electronic signature experience is so slick and secure.” 

Kathryn Myhill, Assistant Director (Digital) in IT Services, University of York

How universities are leveraging eSignature to improve workflows and experiences

Docusign eSignature adds value by streamlining processes, speeding up contract turnaround time, providing an enhanced experience to all parties involved, and eliminating costs spent on printing and posting. Our customers saved an average of £30 per contract with up to 80% of agreements completed in less than a day, and 44% in less than 15 minutes.

For Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), the pandemic meant that all staff were unexpectedly forced to start working from home. Julia Bates, Application Manager at Sheffield Hallam University, notes that together the SHU and Docusign teams reacted to SHUs urgent need for eSignature and thus worked together to get the tool integrated, live and staff trained immediately.

“eSignature really fulfilled an urgent need,” Julia Bates, Application Manager, SHU 

As well as enabling remote work, eSignature tackled SHU’s problem with delays in the signing of important documents—by removing the wet signatures and replacing them with a streamlined, automated process, contracts are now being completed far quicker. Additionally, electronic signatures remove the need for paper based documents which Julia adds, “no longer work for SHU”.


Demos to show Docusign Sample Contract Routes 

During the webinar, Cormac Murphy, Higher Education Account Executive and Neraj Karwal, Principal Solutions Consultant at Docusign brought us through two demos to showcase how eSignature can be leveraged for different agreements. You can see the full HR and legal contract demos that showcase how templates can be used within the platform, how the Docusign API can be leveraged and integrated with other systems like Sharepoint, and how complicated workflows can be easily managed. The two experts also answered a number of questions from the webinar attendees, we answer these questions below. 

Customer Q&A

Is there an escalation for signing—if someone doesn’t sign by a specified time can it be passed on to a different named individual for signing? 

We have a correct feature—this means that if the document hits a bottleneck and somebody is not responding to that, you can go into that envelope, click correct and assign it to somebody else to complete. Alternatively you can use the signing group option so that it goes to multiple individuals and only one person needs to take action on it. 

You can also set up automatic reminders so that the signer receives automated reminder notifications until the document is signed. 

How is the ID verification solution aligned with right to work checks? 

Docusign ID Verification is a digital and mobile-friendly way to verify a signer’s identity using a government-issued photo ID. This verification process ensures that the customer experience is frictionless, and verification doesn’t interrupt the experience your organisation delivers. Digital ID verification is part of the Docusign Identify family of products, which includes phone, access code, SMS and knowledge-based authentication options for easier and more secure completion of agreements. It allows you to automatically verify a signer’s government-issued ID or European eIS on any device.

Are electronic signatures legal in the UK? 

Regulation (EU) No 910/2014, the “eIDAS Regulation” came into force, on 1 July 2016 and means that any electronic document you send between two EU countries is safe, legally compliant, and regulated.

In 2018, the Law Commission for England and Wales formally ruled that “Electronic signatures can be used to sign formal legal contracts under English law”. More than that, the Law Commissioner said: “Contract law in the UK is flexible, but some businesses are still unsure if electronic signatures would satisfy legal requirements. We can confirm that they do.”

eIDAS also ensures that each form of electronic signature is admissible as evidence in EU courts. Often these cases demonstrate how powerful an e-signature audit trail can be even in the face of allegations of forgery. Electronic signatures are legally binding under UK law.

Docusign has created a comprehensive guide to the law in each region here, or dive further into legality or in our eBook, A Legality Guide to eSignature.

Can you select multiple templates in one go? 

We call this composite templates. You can select template 1 which might have an NDA or document with a certain workflow and then you can apply a second, third or fourth template to that to merge with other business logic or documents. 

Can you reject a document or request that it be amended, and what happens if some people have already signed it? 

There are approve and decline buttons (which are shown in the demos) - the decline option here is a hard void. However, there is also a softer option, you can comment within the agreement, providing feedback and collaborating so that the creator can correct the document. If anyone signs the agreement you can no longer replace the document, you can however change the workflow to adapt to signing order etc. 

Any recommendation for establishing a centralised Docusign admin functional role to cover off the many different departments in a university? 

There are different ways to approach this.

  1.  You can have one account with lots of different groups of individuals. Therefore, that admin will manage the entire account. 
  2. Other customers like to have sub-accounts, you have multiple accounts that are isolated to different teams. Here you can enable a feature called org admin, this gives you a high level admin and allows you to connect all of the accounts and manage it that way. The org admin can also enable Single Sign-On (SSO), and other advanced features like Docusign Monitor. 



Cormac Murphy
Cormac Murphy
Higher Education Account Director