The PIE: What does EDUopinions do?
Jordi Robert-Ribes: In general, our main activity is offering students an independent platform of verified student reviews, to help them decide [where to study] using information from reviewers who have studied or is currently studying at an institution. It’s not just a board where anyone can post anything, we verify reviews.
When we look at a new review, the reviewers need to log in via Facebook or LinkedIn to leave the review, or they can log in via email. So this gives us some information about where the student has studied. If we do not have a clear indication that that person that has written the review has studies at that institution, we say ‘great review, but please send us your student ID, your certificate, whatever you have and we verify if it’s OK, we approve it. If it’s not OK we just don’t approve it’.
But anyone can read the reviews online, so that adds transparency, and students can write whatever they want.
There’s always some human from our team that does checks. Then we send this student to the relevant institutions, who are our customers. Since we are independent platform that means even if you are a customer and you receive a one star review, the review gets published and that is non-negotiable. If you’re a customer, you can respond officially to the review so that’s the benefit you have.
“I realised that most students were facing the same issue when trying to decide where to study”
The PIE: Why did you start?
JR-R: We started when our eldest daughter started looking into university options. The only thing she could get was testimonials from students and in fact the testimonials had been filtered by the marketing department. They were all very nice and rosy. Information was available on different boards and chat boards and Facebook groups, but there was no easy way [to find that in one place].
And in addition to that, at the time, I was externally lecturing at business schools both in Europe and in Australia. And by speaking with business school students, I realised that most students were facing the same issue when trying to decide where to study or even a destination to study in.
That’s why then EDUopinions was was born. It’s a complex thing to have a platform of verified reviews, it’s taken about two years to have sufficient reviews of a significant kind of critical mass of verified reviews and the verification process functioning. And then after those two years, that’s two more years to build enough organic traffic. Google likes a lot the organic user generated content, so now it is now growing a lot.
The PIE: I also saw that you have rankings.
JR-R: We do rank institutions, according to the reviews they have received. While other rankings are more like a Michelin guide, decided by experts, we are more like TripAdvisor for students. And both have their own raison d’être and provide value to students.
The value we provide to students is the student voice from someone who has been there. For instance, we had a student a couple of years ago who reviewed a business school where she was studying and she goes oh ‘five stars, perfect’. And then you just read, ‘This school is not very demanding. If you want a masters, you can put in your CV, go to another school’. Then I realised, gosh, this person hasn’t understood the star system. ‘And I give this school five stars because that’s great, it allows me to be here in this great city for one year enjoying the city and not having to work too hard. Perfect’. You never have such a review, such text in the marketing material.
“We see that there’s a higher traffic from students searching for studies in Europe”
The PIE: So most your users leaving and reading the reviews, are they mainly in Europe?
JR-R: We have traffic worldwide. We see that there’s a higher traffic from students searching for studies in Europe, not students from Europe but studies in Europe, because that’s where we have most reviews and so on. And they’re people that want to study internationally. Those in Africa who want to study in Europe. Russians wanting to study in Poland. Southeast Asians wanting to study in Europe, South Africans, Australians, we have a lot of students from South America wanting to study in Spain, Portugal and France.
The PIE: Are the reviews all in English or is it a mixture?
JR-R: They’re in whatever language the student writes the review however they appear on the website also translated to English if they were not given in English. There’s a lot of South Americans that leave reviews in Spanish, or North Africans in French for their studies in France.
The PIE: So from those reviews that you read, what sort of trends have you seen?
JR-R: We see trends from two different sources, the reviews and the prospective students that we match with institutions. The trends we’ve seen from the prospective students include an increase in online studies, clearly due to the pandemic, and now they’re popularising a bit.
We’ve also seen an increase in people searching for or requesting to be matched for studies in the Netherlands, in Germany or in France post-Brexit. However, international students from further abroad – like India, China – the UK tends to be quite stable in that sense.
There are three things that the students are looking for – an experience on campus, knowledge and the accreditation. Some students just want the knowledge, and there’s an increase in that for the masters side, saying, ‘Look, I want the knowledge. I don’t care what the provider of that knowledge is, and I don’t care to go there in person. I’m happy online’. The knowledge might be given by a very non-ranked institution or education provider, but it’s very focused on whatever topic they’re trying to study.
“We can see that there’s more students just looking for the knowledge than they used to be”
The PIE: At the PIE, we are reporting often about a focus on student outcomes and return on investment, with a new career-oriented student cohort, so it’s interesting you are saying that.
JR-R: I’m not saying that everyone’s looking for knowledge. What I’m saying is we can see that there’s more students just looking for the knowledge than they used to be – there’s an increase in people that want to get that knowledge. One of the students that got the job at Google in Dublin said, ‘look, Google doesn’t care about what degree you get, or even if you don’t get that the degree’. But then you know, that might be the top end of companies. If you’re a small company, probably you need some degree, you cannot test what Google tests.
The PIE: On the point of post-Brexit students looking to study in the Netherlands, in Germany, are they looking for courses that are in English because they can’t access those in Britain?
JR-R: Yes, there is something like that. However, this also even post-Brexit, there is online studies. Yes, there’s many people that want to study online because they don’t want to travel, and even if it’s online, they’re very picky about the institution. Sometimes that is a UK institution. Even if they’re studying online and they have never been to the UK, have no intention of going to the UK, they want a degree from a UK institution, even if it’s only worked online. We’re seeing this trend also.