Business challenge

Deakin University needed a way to answer incoming university student inquiries using a frequently asked questions (FAQs) portal without it taking a significant amount of the students' time.


Deakin now offers students access to critical administrative and course information, giving them the ability to ask their questions in natural language instead of searching through keyword-based FAQs.


10% increase

in student enrollment expected by raising student satisfaction

AUD 3 million

projected in productivity improvements annually through administrative workload reduction

6.5% increase

in post-graduation employment rates anticipated with tailored curricula and career advice

Business challenge story

Non-standardized information in FAQ portal

Deakin needed to address the onerous and time-consuming process that required students who sought academic information to inquire at multiple departments before receiving the appropriate answer. The university realized that it could answer approximately 80 percent of these inquiries using frequently asked questions (FAQs), and it populated a portal called DeakinSync with the answers. However, even with the innovative portal, students often asked questions beyond the DeakinSync solution’s capabilities, and if the information was unavailable or not standardized across the institution, it could still take up to three weeks for students to find the person with the correct information. Although the DeakinSync portal delivered an immediate FAQ-based advisory system to new and existing students, the university knew its limitations and sought to improve it. Deakin wanted to provide a more personalized online tool for students to use throughout and even after their university lives, providing tools and knowledge for life and employment.

“Deakin is pushing the digital boundaries because we want to make the student experience the best it can possibly be.”

—Jane den Hollander, vice chancellor and president

Transformation story

Personalized academic advisor using cognitive-computing

Many universities have an online FAQ tool for incoming and current students, but what happens when the information is unavailable, incomplete or frustrating to access without knowing precise keywords? Deakin is now using cognitive-computing technology in a first-in-its-industry solution to give students access to critical administrative and course information through a novel online portal that they can use to ask their own questions in natural language instead of searching through keyword-based FAQs. Future enhancements to the solution, which is accessible through any Internet-connected device, will provide individualized program information and advice to students as they plan their curricula. The university anticipates that the solution will ultimately become a personalized career advisor, pointing students toward the courses and skills they need to land their preferred jobs.

Results story

Personal career assistant as a reliable information source

Deakin anticipates that this novel use of technology as a reliable information source and, in the future, a personal career assistant, will boost enrollment by up to 10 percent as a result of a 20 percent increase in student satisfaction. For the public university, having more students translates into higher revenue that Deakin can put into program improvement. Deakin expects to achieve more than AUD 3 million in productivity improvements annually by reducing the need for university personnel to respond to questions that the IBM® Watson™ solution can answer. Ultimately, it is estimated that personalized, tailored career direction from the cognitive-computing solution will help raise post-graduation employment rates by 6.5 percent, which will further set the university apart from and above its peers.

Deakin is one of the first universities in the world to use cognitive-computing technology to enhance students’ lives in this way. As the solution makes new, novel connections among increasing amounts of data, students can expect it to become a personalized career coach as they make inquiries and decisions in planning their academic lives.

The university previously used a technology solution that provided answers to approximately 80 percent of student questions through an FAQ search; finding answers to the other 20 percent could take up to three weeks in some cases. Now, students can make natural language inquiries using the cognitive-computing solution, which can deliver answers within seconds or immediately direct students to the person who can provide the right answers.

The cognitive-computing solution serves as its own system of insight as it ingests a nearly unlimited amount of data; it then becomes a system of engagement with students as it not only provides answers to inquiries, but also becomes a personal assistant to students as they move through the university and into careers.

About Deakin University

Established in 1974, Deakin University, a public university based in Victoria, Australia, enrolls more than 43,000 students across its Melbourne Burwood, Geelong Waterfront, Geelong Waurn Ponds and Warrnambool campuses. The university receives more than AUD 600 million in operating revenue annually and controls more than AUD 1.3 billion in assets. Nearly 10,000 students study in what the university calls cloud learning, through online classes.