UNIVER will plug a gap in terms of effective global advice for students who are intent on studying abroad, say the founders, Amanda Gregory, Lindsey Watkin and Ahmad Abu-Shaikha.
“MENA students are poorly served”
Working with an already-connected network of school counsellors will be one of the company’s USPs, providing access to advise for secondary-aged students considering their options.
“MENA students are poorly served. They lack information on the vast choice of subjects and institutions available to them and are often influenced by peers and family,” co-founder and COO Gregory told The PIE.
“This results in the highest attrition rate in the world. UNIVER will solve this. For the first time, students, with guidance from their school counsellors can connect, apply and enrol online making the right choice for their future.”
The platform was launched this September in the UAE and has 152 university partners to date with 14 more in the pipeline.
UNIVER is accessible at any time for students through a common app and provides a searchable catalogue of programs and institutions. Applications can be tracked in real-time through a personalised dashboard.
The platform also offers peer-to-peer guidance, enabling university partners to appoint student ambassadors who connect with future students from the MENA region.
The service is free for students to use and universities can either pay a flat fee per enrolment or an annual subscription to be included on the Univer platform.
UNIVER is positioning itself as a solution to a number of problems faced in the MENA student market.
Gregory explained that while the gross enrolment ratio in the region is predicted to increase by 20% by 2025, the attrition rate of MENA students dropping out of university is 35%.
“We did statistical research as well as focus groups with students in Dubai, in Bahrain, and in Oman and found that the main reason they dropped out was because of a lack of information,” said Gregory.
“The high school counsellors are desperate for information, but they’re under pressure, they’re under-resourced and they don’t know where to go to find information that’s specifically for their students.
“As for the universities worldwide, they want to recruit MENA students but they don’t know how to get at them,” she said.
To tackle this, UNIVER has created a program called ‘UNIVER Empower’ which offers school counsellors training and personal development for free, as well as meeting opportunities with new university partners.
“Universities worldwide…want to recruit MENA students but they don’t know how”
The team behind the company includes Gregory, who is a former commercial director at Hotcourses and co-founder and CEO Abu-Shaikha, who worked at Study Group and who founded Dubai-based education management company Alpha International LLC.
Lindsey Watkin, former faculty director of global programmes at Manchester Metropolitan, is acting as UNIVER’s director of university partnerships for UK and Europe.
“The greatest asset of UNIVER is the team behind it. Ahmad, Lindsey and I have over 60 years experience in marketing, recruitment and admissions across the globe,” said Bahrain-based Gregory.
“Most importantly, we are on the ground. We know the market, we know the students and we know the school counsellors,” she added.
In year one, Univer is operating in six countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, the UAE and Egypt.
Gregory related that across those six countries, “950,00 students enrol in university every year, and that is locally, regionally and internationally”.
“In those six countries – we call them the MENA six – there are 2,900 private independent schools and there are 92,000 government schools,” Gregory related.
“With MENA a high-value market for universities, UNIVER is a transformative initiative for recruiters,” she added.