Making the most of technology to drive success for online learners

Experiencing a rapid increase in enrolment and applications, the Open University of Catalonia partnered with Salesforce to streamline their processes and match students’ learning needs with the right programmes

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12 Dec 2023
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Salesforce session at DU Europe 2023
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Technology enables universities to offer personalised learning at scale, widening accessibility and boosting diversity within student cohorts. However, universities must implement strategies to centralise siloed data and deliver effective communications with prospective students to optimise the use of technology. A session, held in partnership with Salesforce, at the 2023 THE Digital Universities Europe event, brought together technology experts from the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the customer relationship management platform Salesforce to discuss the myriad challenges facing the university – from reducing attrition rates and offering personalised support to forging agile collaboration among departments.

In 1995, the UOC became one of the first universities in the world to offer an asynchronous educational model to students. With a rise in student enrolment from hundreds to approximately 87,000 students, the university is creating a niche in Spain’s higher education sector.

In the beginning, UOC attracted more mature learners. The institution has seen a surge in younger applicants because it provides more flexibility to balance professional pursuits or travel, said Josè Manuel Rivera López, customer relationship management director at the university. Although the surge in student enrolments is welcomed, it comes with challenges. Meeting the expectations of a large student population requires connecting all the digital touch points within the student journey, monitoring each engagement effectively and streamlining processes with automation.

In 2015, the university collaborated with Salesforce to equip their teams with a modern cloud-based technology stack, enabling them to personalise engagement with prospective students and applicants. “The reason we chose Salesforce was [because] we needed a single source of data. We needed the data in a single place, with a single model,” said López.

By using Salesforce Customer 360, the UOC is not only automating digital touchpoints to reduce the administrative burden on staff but also deepening their relationships with prospective students thanks to personalised and dynamic communications. The Salesforce platform makes it easy to centralise fragmented data and get a 360-degree view of each individual – leading to agile collaboration among departments, López said.

López shared examples of how data insights support the university during hectic periods, such as when there is an influx of student enquiries about courses and degree programmes. Streamlining recruitment and admission processes helps the university stand out in a competitive market and bolsters a yearly 10 per cent enrolment growth.

López also shared that this experience provided a valuable learning experience, which helped the institution identify the best practices to stay connected to its 100,000 graduates and offer them new learning opportunities. Finding similarities among various service processes across the campus is another reason why UOC is piloting Salesforce to personalise academic advising for students. Technology is crucial in driving efficiency and reducing cost, and so is the change management that accompanies its implementation, López concluded.

The panel:

  • José Manuel Rivera López, customer relationship management director, Open University of Catalonia
  • Julio Villalobos, education strategic industry advisor, Salesforce

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