Using virtual reality goggles, Crawford’s company, InitialView, gave 360-degree virtual tours of three American universities — Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and Washington University in St. Louis — to hundreds of prospective Chinese families.
Chinese parents were left with much more than brochures to help influence their decision about where to send their children off to school and invest their time and money.
Crawford says the VR tours enabled Chinese parents to “imagine what their kid’s life would be like if they went there.”
The VR tours offered by InitialView represent just one of several ways that technology is being leveraged in new and innovative ways in the field of international education.
Institutions smarten up
Technology is also being employed by higher education institutions, as some turn to web platforms that use sophisticated algorithms to ensure they get access to some of the top academic talent in the world.
Admission-related tests that might have once required students in remote villages to spend considerable time and money on travel to take the tests at a centralised location could soon yield to home-based tests. For example, Duolingo’s English Test – winner of the PIEoneer Award in 2017 for Digital Innovation – is a relatively new computer adaptive test that was launched in 2015.
The DET is a great example of a digital innovation that has scaled well; it is now accepted by more than 90 institutions in the US and abroad, including Yale, Tufts, Notre Dame, Northeastern, and UCLA.
Another new digital disruptor is Global-Exam, a France-based online platform launched in 2014 dedicated to helping international students obtain better pass rates for language proficiency exams such as TOEFL, IELTS and HSK.
There are even “panic button” style apps being developed to connect international students with 24-hour live support. Apps focused on welfare are a welcome iteration: Morneau Sheppell in Canada won a PIEoneer Student Support award for its 24/7 platform connecting students to counsellors in their own native language.
Will virtual reality tours become a normality?
The extent to which these new technologies translate into higher enrolment figures, better educational experiences for students and ultimately become the norm for professionals in international education remains to be seen.
Take, for instance, InitialView’s recent college tour in China. On the one hand, the whole VR aspect of the tour got favourable reviews among recruiting officers. Julie Chapman, senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Vanderbilt University, called the VR technology a “welcome addition to Vanderbilt’s international recruitment”.
“The university realises that they have to make a shift because now students are more tied to peer-to-peer communication”
However, Aaron Zdawczyk, associate director and director of international recruitment in the office of undergraduate admission at Northwestern University, had a more reserved outlook for VR’s applicability in the future of international recruitment.
“I don’t see it fundamentally changing anything about how we recruit, but it did provide a new and different way to experience Northwestern without actually visiting,” Zdawczyk says.
Authentic insight from prospective peers
Among the new options that prospective students are being offered are peer-to-peer platforms that enable them to connect with current students, who can furnish them with a first-hand account of what life is like on campus.
This is what new start-up UniBuddy offers in the UK. Set up by French international student Diego Fanara, it enables prospective students to learn more about life at a particular university by chatting with a currently enrolled student.
Fanara says he didn’t launch the platform out of a desire to become an entrepreneur, but to solve a practical problem.
“There was no way for me to know what it’s like to be a student there,” he says.
The service is free to students who sign up, but comes at a cost to colleges, who can embed Unibuddy on their websites.
“The university realises that they have to make a shift because now students are more and more tied to peer-to-peer communication,” Fanara explains.
The idea is simple yet novel within international education and perfect for a web-based platform to fulfil.
Helping universities better identify suitable students
There are also web-based platforms that provide colleges and universities a better read on students they might enroll.
Sqore, a Stockholm-based company, bills its platform as a mechanism for “targeted recruitment, custom-made for schools and companies”.
While it provides information about various jobs, scholarships, traineeships and travel grants to student users, it also utilises a LinkedIn-like algorithm that affixes a “score” to each student so that universities can gauge applicants based on their motivation and skills.
Students must complete a “Sqore Challenge” that involves a test about specific programs or universities, which helps determine their level of seriousness.
Niklas Jungegård, CEO and co-founder of Sqore, says the platform enables universities to “focus on being able to boost ROI” on their activities by using Sqore challenges, and also make students more aware of different universities and programs.
Peer referral, with rewards built in
Similar platforms, such as Enroly, described by its founder as an “international student partner platform”, and Via TRM are also helping institutions become more efficient at finding leads on prospective students who have the skills and are serious enough to enrol.
Enroly is a new UK-based start-up which enables international students to create an account and refer friends to their chosen university or college, funneling their details to a local education agent.
Tolu Adeusi, managing director at TGM Education, an educational consultancy in Ikeja, Nigeria, credited Enroly with streamlining the process of finding prospective students. TGM recently ran a pilot project with Enroly and saw impressive results.
Adeusi says that it can often take consultants many hours to interview and screen prospective students in order to identify those it can help and who are also serious.
“It establishes an immediate connection, like an SOS function with GPS, and we can immediately intervene”
“Enroly streamlines this process as we know the leads generated by Enroly will have a much higher conversion rate, which is a better use of our resources,” Adeusi says.
Apps to ease the onshore assimilation
While technology is being used to help students and institutions better isolate good prospects, in terms of candidates from an institution’s viewpoint or in terms of well matched study opportunities from a student’s perspective, the challenge of actually being abroad is an entirely different thing.
Endeavour Education Services, an education company based in Auckland, New Zealand, plans to introduce a new app designed to ensure international students have all the relevant information they may need – including 24/7 live support – right in the palm of their hands.
Edwin Paul, director and chief operating officer at EESL, said too often critical materials about where to file complaints regarding sexual harassment, employee abuse, or where to turn for emergency services are not centralised in one location.
The app – dubbed HappE – contains all of the relevant information a student may need to know in one location.
And through the app, students can reach their “pastoral care” providers – which are legally required for international students in New Zealand – at any time.
“It establishes an immediate connection, like an SOS function with GPS, and we can immediately intervene,” Paul says.
“Debut employers have sent over 760,000 talent spots – a moment many students describe as ‘exciting’ – the first sign of recognition after 18 years or more spent in education”
In Canada, another tech development is iCENT, an orientation app that includes a platform to facilitate meetings between students looking for new friends, travel partners or roommates. It also offers help around study permits, airport arrival assistance and offers guidance with day-to-day activities like shopping, banking, and finding places of worship.
Finally, there is a new breed of post-study support apps and cloud-based platforms that are emerging to embrace the ambitious graduated student. One app, Debut, was created in the UK and aimed at British students primarily but according to Michele Trusolino, its COO & co-founder, it is now being used by some European universities.
Launched in 2015, Debut connects young talent with leading employers and has already been adopted by 50 employers including Rolls-Royce, EY, Microsoft, General Electric and L’Oreal. Debut works on a similar basis to Sqore in that it uses gamification on its app, enabling users to play games, win internships and also receive “Talent Spots”, which means employers can get in touch directly with a user profile they are interested in.
”Since launch, Debut employers have sent over 760,000 talent spots – a moment many students describe as ‘exciting’ – the first sign of recognition after 18 years or more spent in education,” explains Trusolino.
And also in the UK, education consultancy UVIC has launched new platform Super Mentor, which enables Chinese students to chat with former international students who have already enjoyed professional success.
Super Mentors are invited to join a WeChat group for a lecture which is conducted using text and audio messages, images, videos and presentation slides.
Founder Philip Hao says this is helping build a holistic counselling services to students, beyond course selection.
- This is an abridged version of an article that originally appeared in The PIE Review, our quarterly print publication.