“The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated digital adoption across the global HE sector, leading to what may have been the world’s largest experiment in rapid digital transformation.”
So wrote Emerge Education’s Alexander Iosad in August of this year, summarising conversations with 40 senior HE executives. Two months on and the transformation triggered by Covid-19 continues apace.
In the short term, switching to a 100% virtual student-recruitment strategy is arguably the most responsible course of action.
But the shift to virtual events and communities which can truly inform and build applicants’ confidence will drive long-term social-impact and financial benefits too.
The greatest beneficiaries of the change will be groups who find it hard to get to face-to-face events: those who can’t afford to travel; the disabled; and those who have children or relatives to care for at home. That is to say those who are traditionally the targets of outreach and the widening-participation agenda.
Equally, better online open events will give international students – who tend to attend physical events in far lower numbers – greater confidence in applying, lifting international revenues for UK institutions.
For universities however, the shift to 100% digital has so far been expensive.
The speed of the change meant some institutions we have spoken to were bounced into using the tools available at hand to support their virtual student recruitment strategy – those already approved and purchased by procurement functions – rather than those perhaps best suited and priced for the task.
Let’s take streaming video as an example. Streaming video content over the internet should be (and normally is) much cheaper than using a video-conferencing tool to do the same job. But at least two video-conferencing platforms (I won’t name, but you can guess) have profited handsomely from the rush to meet demands for virtual presentations at scale.
And this applies to a whole raft of technologies institutions have spliced together to replicate the modalities of face-to-face events: content hosting; video streaming; web chat; virtual event environments; CRM integration…
… The list goes on and the costs of each platform stack up on each other, meaning institutions are paying far more than they should, or would, for a service which could deliver all that functionality on a single, next-generation platform.
The next cycle of virtual student-recruitment events is an opportunity for universities to take the strategic initiative and build high-quality, fully-integrated experiences for applicants, for the long term.
Once they do that well enough to meet applicant expectations, they will reap the rewards: across social impact in widening participation, domestic and international student recruitment, and cost savings as well.
Union Spaces puts all the technology features required for virtual recruitment into one cost-effective, scalable platform designed to meet a broad spread of university needs, including demonstrating value for money.
Simpler for your staff to use: there’s only one system to learn. And better for prospective students: one login leading to a consistent, branded experience which you control.
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Chris Smith is CTO and Co-Founder of Union Spaces, a community-led technology that helps universities design virtual and hybrid student recruitment strategies.