Case Studies

University Successfully Adopts Agile Response to Major Placement Program Disruption

July 20, 2020
  • Due to a global public health crisis, the University of Newcastle faced widespread impacts to day to day placement operations.
  • Staff needed an efficient, consistent way to track changes and retain historical data.
  • The Sonia team worked with the placement staff to develop a solution that would reduce workload and could be implemented quickly.
  • Leveraging Sonia's flexibility, an effective and cohesive response was quickly designed.

An Unprecedented Situation
Like much of the world, the University of Newcastle, Australia, faced difficult decisions in March 2020. The University's Faculty of Health and Medicine partners with healthcare providers to support professional experience for students in healthcare fields. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, university leadership made an unprecedented decision; they paused all placements in order to ensure the health and safety of their students.

At the time of this decision, Kathy Bradley, Senior Project Officer and Sonia Coordinator, and her team had thousands of students involved in placements. Allied health placements were halfway and nursing placements were just beginning. They faced the huge administrative task of recording disruptions, but also preparing for in the coming months. Her team needed to be able to record and communicate changes clearly while maintaining clear historic data for comparison and they needed to act quickly to respond to the evolving situation.

View Webinar: Approaches to Managing the COVID-19 Crisis in Placement Programs


Bradley also knew the importance of a consistent approach across the university. The Faculty of Health and Medicine alone has 14 placement officers, all of whom were focused on the immediate concerns of their students. "Each placement officer is focused on a specific discipline and their highest priority had to be addressing the needs of their stakeholders. However, with the pandemic, it was obvious that we needed a single cohesive university-wide approach to managing our placement data."


A Fast Solution, Less Labor and Easy Reporting

Fortunately, the University of Newcastle was a longtime customer of Sonia student placement software. As experienced users, the team had already customized the platform to meet the needs of their program. However, now they faced a scenario they had never encountered before, much less at this scale.

Sonia has been fantastic during this crisis. It has allowed us to have a standardized record keeping process while maintaining clear communications with our stakeholders.

Bradley immediately contacted the Support team at QSR International and explained the problem. Her team needed fast solutions to support students. Within a few days, Kathy and the Sonia Support team at QSR had developed a plan to adapt the Sonia platform to meet the new demands of the situation. Shortly after, she had a clear process to train her team on.

In essence, Kathy's process involved keeping 2 copies of each 2020 Placement Group: a working copy and a historic copy. The working copy was used to manage replacement activities and Sonia online communications, while the originals became the historic reference point retaining the record of the pre-COVID environment. The emergency updates to Sonia allowed bulk editing of Placement Requests to quickly manage placement nuances and improved reportability, supporting Kathy's process. The solution meant significantly less manual intervention by the team and easier, more robust reporting. This process was simultaneously rolled out across the whole university and was shared with the global Sonia community via webinar to the other universities could benefit.


Sonia Is An Integral Tool For Concientious Placement Management

Bradley and the Sonia team continued to develop and share ways to manage the disruptions due to the pandemic, including facilitating conversations among universities using Sonia around the world. This collaborative effort resulted in the development of a library of how-tos, sample forms, and training materials that was made available to all Sonia users.

Placement programs are varied and complex, and a smart placement management software must be adaptable to the unique needs of each university as well as sudden and unexpected changes. The Sonia team worked quickly to ensure that University of Newcastle and all their users had the resources needed to develop a consistent and effective response to placement disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

About The University of Newcastle
The University of Newcastle is a public university located in New South Wales, Australia. The university was founded in 1965 and today has more than 36,000 students.

About Sonia
Sonia, developed by QSR International, is a student placement solution and central hub for program data management that supports improvements and efficiencies for work integrated learning programs.