Many universities with affordable fees, located in countries with post-study work rights are being inundated with speculative applications.
There is however, a downside to higher demand, as institutions have to pay the operational cost of processing tens of thousands of applications that are inevitably unsuccessful.
This backlog grows everyday and can cause widespread service issues and delays, including hindering carefully nurtured applicants from priority markets.
The challenge doesn’t stop at enrolment either, as retention is a growing problem. Non-continuation costs the UK higher education sector more than £300 million per year, and more than 100 universities are losing more than £1m annually in undergraduate tuition fees alone from students who drop out according to pre-pandemic HESA data.
The bottom line is that admissions processing is an expensive operation and the workload is increasing faster than the capacity to admit more students or hire more staff.
Enter the private sector providers who are quietly bridging this resource gap. These companies come in all shapes and sizes and often offer invisible, white-label solutions, operating under the university brand and alongside existing admissions teams to increase capacity.
The PIE talked to a range of providers in the UK, as they pitched their solutions on offer to universities:
QS Enrolment Solutions
Offering a full suite of services including enquiry management, application assessment, conversion and retention support, QS literally integrates into existing university admissions systems to increase capacity. With overseas processing centres in Kuala Lumpur and Bangalore, it specialises in admissions support for many high-ranking institutions.
“We build bespoke machine learning models for our partners”
“Our 20+ UK clients include specialist colleges, comprehensive modern institutions and 30% of the Russell Group – and we are the number one provider of student recruitment and enrolment services in the world. Our services are enhanced by exclusive insights from the QS Intelligence Unit, World University Rankings and International Student Survey,” commented Andrew Plant, business development director at QS.
“We build bespoke machine learning models for our partners that accurately predict the likelihood for students to apply, receive an offer, enrol or be retained, resulting in greater operational efficiencies and improved conversion rates.”
The growth of UniQuest has been spearheaded by effective applicant engagement services, and has now expanded services to application processing and retention resources for a wide range of UK partners. A competitor to QS, UniQuest was acquired by Keystone Education Group in 2021 and now has plans to open overseas processing centres in the near future. Highly engaging campaigns across email, instant messaging and telecommunications are turning domestic, EU and international applicants into enrolled students.
“We are seeing teams in universities that aren’t increasing their capacity but are expected to just keep delivering, and that’s really challenging. Admissions teams just can’t process applications quickly enough because they have a lot of noise,” explained Jenni Parsons, product and partnerships director at UniQuest.
“We are taking away some of that noise and allowing universities to process things more efficiently and get through applications more quickly. We’re also helping to build capacity for teams, processing applications and making offers.”
One in five UK universities now use Enroly’s technology to support their compliance, visa and enrolment process, such has been the company’s rapid rise. Enroly provides university teams with an automation-supported platform that boosts admissions productivity and workflow. The CAS Shield system includes automated compliance preparation and document checking features and can be used in combination with services from other private providers like QS and UniQuest. Students and agents can also self-serve on the system. Enroly has been shortlisted for the digital innovation of the year in technology category at The PIEoneer Awards 2022.
“UK universities face unrelenting administrative challenges when processing international students,” stated Jeff Williams, CEO and co-founder of Enroly.
“The Enroly platform reduces admin time, cuts revenue attrition, and modernises the admissions experience for staff and students. Our university partners consistently tell us about the game-changing impact of the platform. It allows them to achieve much more with the same resources and scale-up recruitment sustainably.”
In 2022 Sannam S4 Group, a leading in-market services provider which helps universities host regional representatives all over the world, launched Acumen, an expansion of services to university and education partners to drive recruitment and enrolment. These services include admissions functions that often leverage local knowledge and operational costs for efficiency.
“Universities need to be increasingly creative in finding a way to continue to meet the high expectations of prospective international students,” said Pete Richards, executive director of UK and Europe at Acumen.
“Universities need to be increasingly creative”
“A large number of institutions are engaging companies such as Acumen to assist with this. Our PACE service (Prospect, Admit, Convert and Enrol) is designed to interplay with a university’s own admissions and enrolment play-book, identifying and unblocking bottlenecks and delivering a bespoke, ‘as needed’ service through the entire conversion funnel, or just a part of the funnel that’s causing delays and a fall in service delivery.”
MSM is another educational management company that offers a dedicated in-country team to support global institutional partners with their admissions process through pre-screening of applicants. This includes verification of academic and financial transcripts.
“The MSM platform allows students and agents access to experienced admissions staff who handle all their queries on our global partner admission processes,” explained Hersha Pandya, executive director of UK partner relations.
“Our partners then get ‘offer ready’ pre-qualified applications, off-loading the burden of their admission staff sifting through hundreds of applications which may never convert to enrolments.”
Oxford International Education Group
International pathway providers are already embedded within institutions as high-value partners supporting both recruitment and curriculum delivery. It comes as no surprise that many of the major providers in this space are expanding their services to admissions operations for universities.
A recent example is Oxford International Education Group which has been chosen by Ravensbourne University London to provide student application processing services.
The long-standing provider of tailored educational services supports all or part of the pre-matriculation journey from enquiry management to CAS issuance, either as a branded service or on a white-label basis.
“Pathway providers have worked alongside universities for decades, we really understand the challenges and opportunities and are focussed on long-term strategic partnerships,” chief development officer David Pilsbury said.
“It was obvious early last year that admissions was becoming a ‘burning platform’ for a lot of institutions and we invested quickly to scale up and extend services particularly in India and Nigeria.”
“It was obvious early last year that admissions was becoming a ‘burning platform'”
Staff in the UK, India, Nigeria and HK have specific knowledge of regional markets and informs OIEG’s processes. It is particularly valuable in high risk (and high volume) markets like South Asia and West Africa where the company offers large scale, specialised credibility checking with detailed screening of applicants and in-depth document checking.
“We deliver to a wide range of universities from highly ranked global players through to small and specialist institutions – this is an area where they recognise risks are substantially reduced by giving this function to a third-party – which have the capacity and capability to deliver at scale and with the sophistication that comes from their complete focus on this,” Pilsbury added.
Trusted agents are increasingly being favoured by universities to host in-country offices and help with enquiry management from certain regions. While handing over full admissions powers to agents seems unlikely, the ability to make offers-in-principle and provide pre-screening on behalf of a university is becoming common practice.
IDP Connect has been expanding their FastLane service to new markets, a feature where students can receive an express response from a university in minutes using automation technology and the IDP Live app. Priority admissions and initial offers can dramatically impact speed up service times for students and positively impact conversion rates.
“FastLane is our latest innovation to reinvent the student-placement model. Our FastLane service empowers students to receive an in-principle offer from their chosen institution, in many cases, six times faster than standard applications,” explained Jonah Duffin, IDP Connect’s Director of External Relations, Global.
The initiative was co-designed with university clients, students and counsellors, and is now live across 16 countries, he continued.
“It combines data with human expertise for faster more accurate service and helps students to get an indicative institution offer instantly.
“Through our data science-driven platforms, universities are able to recruit the right students, offering them a more personalised experience, while driving greater volume, diversity and efficiency. And now, our counselling teams are using insights from these platforms to address students’ needs, as well as having more time to focus on the conversations that matter.”