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Jessica Turner, QS

It's all about enabling motivated people anywhere in the world to fulfil their potential through international education
September 27 2022
5 Min Read

Name: Jessica Turner

Occupation: CEO, QS

Location: UK


After more the 30 years leading QS, founder Nunzio Quacquarelli is making way for a new CEO. Stepping in to fill the position as Quacquarelli moves to president and chair of the board is former group managing director Jessica Turner.

“QS has got a really unique opportunity to support the sector at the moment,” the incoming CEO tells The PIE. “We see ourselves as a partner to higher education, to institutions and to students. And the role we play is to provide really deep insight into institutional performance, and connect students with institutions that help them to realise their ambitions.”

Turner joined the company in 2019 to lead strategy and transformation, before becoming group managing director in early 2020.

With some 750 staff, including 43 different nationalities across 23 different countries, offering analytics, consulting, enrolment conversion services and with the engagement of 55 million students through its websites, QS is “really the glue at the heart of that interaction between institutions and students”, she says.

Data and insights is and will continue to be at the heart of the company’s strategy going forward. With years at Clarivate Analytics running the scientific and academic research business, and with her data, analytics and information services background, Turner has a clear focus for the future where AI and technology will take centre stage.

“We collect billions of data points”

“We collect billions of data points on institutions from employers, from students, from institutions,” she says of QS. “We look a lot at the data and anticipate what the future trends of the sector are.”

And QS is consciously utilising the technology to identify and rectify challenges the sector is facing, she indicates, especially in effective enrolment conversion capabilities.

“We really do think that we have the most effective enrolment conversion capability that exists in the industry. That’s really important given the huge influx of applications and students that have been generated post-pandemic and the volumes of students that institutions in particular markets like the UK are dealing with today,” she says, referring to the application overload some institutions have experienced in recent intakes.

With the investment QS has made in technology, it has “the data science models to provide a really tailored, personalised service”.

“We’re not just trying to generate huge volumes of applications because, in fact, that causes a problem for institutions as opposed to solving a problem,” she says. QS can also boast that – for the average institution it works with in the UK – the incremental benefit of using its services increases the first-year student fee intake by about £1.5 million.

For students, QS has traditionally led with its QS World University Rankings and university fairs, but its big announcement from 2021 was its entry into end-to-end enrolment space with the acquisition of StudentApply. The model is designed to find high quality students from a diverse range of locations, Turner emphasises.

“The impetus for us was being able to help institutions to find that diversity and those quality students,” she says. “We have physical presence on the ground in Africa and Central Asia, in Southeast Asia, as well as Latin America, so in a set of markets that are really valuable to institutions we’re working with.”

QS is working with its networks of high school counsellors, local influencers, its direct channels, as well as “really select” agents all informed by the company’s expertise and data to ensure students and institutions find the right match.

“We’re ramping that up and we’re ramping that up really fast,” Turner says.

It is also introducing new products to its portfolio, such as its upcoming sustainability insight and ranking.

“Sustainability, both the environmental side and the social side, is another lens that will really help students to make the right choice… and we can really help to showcase what’s going on in institutions, their impact and how they can benchmark themselves against their peers.”

Along with the drive on diversity, building institutional reputation and improving performance, QS’s fourth key offer in its holistic support service to partners is centred around expanding internationally, she continues.

Its international student survey of some 100,000 students every year, along with continual feedback from students throughout the year, allows QS to “really understand what students want” and what works best for partners, she adds.

“We’re tailoring the services and the packages that we provide to the needs of the institutions, because globally, so many different institutions have different challenges at this point,” Turner explains.

“There’s so many different things that we do, so many needs for the market globally.”

While some of the 2,000 institutions globally QS is working with may be thinking about tapping into diverse markets, or considering best experience for different intakes, others may be “thinking much more about their internationalisation, their global reputation”.

Highly sophisticated UK, Australian and institutions in New Zealand with established international offices and volumes of international students will seek white-labelled enrolment solution services, she says.

Elsewhere, in the US, partnering with higher education enrolment marketing and strategy specialist Carnegie earlier this year, QS is looking to support institutions build up student numbers, identify international student pools and “bring international students back into the US, mitigate some of the losses of student numbers from China and really diversify away from some of the dependence on domestic students”.

Others, such as the 10 new clients QS acquired in the Dominican Republic last week, or the clients in Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East or Asia may be seeking help with institutional performance or building their reputations, she suggests.

Some will want support with internationalisation ambitions, managing Erasmus or Turing mobility programs or other international partnerships.

“[For QS] it’s about that partnership. It’s about serving the needs of students, serving institutions really holistically on a number of different challenges and using the insights and data that we have as the way of being able to make sure that we’re providing that right match between students and institutions for international education.”

During the pandemic, like the rest of the industry, QS pivoted to “really quickly”, going from running 350 physical events globally in 2019, to a fully virtual model.

“I think we learnt a huge amount from that. We rebuilt a lot of our capabilities and we’re much stronger now than we were before,” Turner says. And interest in physical events is returning significantly.

“It’s all about enabling motivated people anywhere in the world to fulfil their potential through international education”

While virtual events can be useful for particular demographics – Turner points to the Women in STEM theme that will resonate across a broader geographical area than could be reached in person – the core is going back to in-person meetings that “people really want to have”.

“This season has been really successful. We’re creating really high quality connections, large numbers of candidates across multiple markets,” she states.

“We’ve had the same mission for 32 years,” Turner concludes. “It’s all about enabling motivated people anywhere in the world to fulfil their potential through international education, career development and international mobility.

“Now, we’ve got the infrastructure, we’ve got the edtech platform, we’ve got the data and analytics – that means that we can do that at scale much more effectively than we’ve been able to do in the past.

“We’ve got a fantastic team who really are inspired by what we’re doing and we’ve got a lot of great plans. It’s a very exciting time for the company.”

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