Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s blog: teams working differently for student recruitment

July 13th, 2020

In the wake of the Coronavirus, teams working together in new and innovative ways has been pivotal to the University’s recovery. Director of Student Recruitment Rachel Atkin explains why she is asking staff to volunteer with Clearing and Confirmation activities this year and outlines some of the ways her department has adapted to protect the University’s core business.

Clearing and Confirmation has always been key for the University, with income from teaching and learning making up 60% of the University’s revenue. But the uncertainty of a post-pandemic world has put an emphasis on student recruitment like never before.

As the Higher Education sector moved online to deal with the impact of the Coronavirus one of the most fundamental areas that had to adapt was student recruitment.

We have traditionally attracted new students through on-campus events as well as presentations in schools and local communities – activities that were put on hold as lockdown began.

The other part of the recruitment journey – Clearing and Confirmation – is typically done through the creation of a physical hotline centre with volunteers fielding thousands of calls.

Almost overnight everything changed and teams were left with the challenge of how to market the University in the face of COVID-19, how to generate applications for 2021 entry and turn applicants into students for 2020 entry.

With the Student Recruitment and Digital and Marketing teams working closely together, one solution to these challenges was to create an online accessible alternative for prospective students to replace activity which could no longer take place in person. The Student Recruitment team also had to discover new ways of interacting with our international prospective students and managing Clearing and Confirmation for those joining in September.

Discover… Something Extraordinary
While Open Days rely on the support of the whole University community to show the campus at its best for prospective students and their families even greater collaboration was needed to turn this into a virtual offering.

Colleagues from Student Recruitment, Digital and Marketing and the User Experience (UX) team in Information Services began with research to scope out what prospective students needed (hope and reassurance about their future) before using this insight to design and implement the project from concept to website go-live.

Via the site applicants are able to sign up for a series of live lectures, subject talks and video tours of the campus. To date the 160 different live sessions have seen more than 15,000 bookings.

We then called upon our many talented colleagues across the university to ask them to support with their individual expertise.

Presenter and delivery teams were provided by student ambassadors, academic schools, Widening Participation and Outreach Delivery teams, the Support Hub, International Student Recruitment and Accommodation colleagues while Media and WP Outreach teams supported with presentation training.

The knowledge, skills and expertise of colleagues in IS was key to the project. They managed, scoped out the project, helped with rehearsals and practice as the team got to grips with new technology, provided on the day trouble-shooting and post-session preparation of recordings.

The majority of lectures were delivered by our outstanding academics on campus from the Monica Partridge Building. The team has worked with HR, Estates, Nottingham Hospitality and the Safety Office in new ways to ensure that on campus delivery was safe. We are particularly thankful to the daily teams of cleaning staff who ensured that the building was safe and clean for us.

And of course the WP and Outreach team, who would usually have been at UCAS fairs and open days, have been the glue in trying to ensure digital sessions took place at the right time with the right people and the right presentations.

Clearing and Confirmation
For Clearing and Confirmation the Student Recruitment team has always worked closely with colleagues in Digital and Marketing. We’ve been fortunate that many colleagues have helped with staffing the hotlines that took more than 77,000 call attempts on results day last year.

This year, with many of us working from home we’ve had to look at doing things differently. We had piloted the use of an online form last year for a small number of courses and will be using this experience to widen it out as the main route for clearing this year.

We will have a scaled back hotline for applicants with volunteers needed to help make verbal offers to applicants over the telephone, against a set of entry criteria.

We are also looking for volunteers to support our Confirmation Hotline dealing with a range of queries from current offer holders. In the midst of a pandemic applicants have far more questions about their university experience. We have been proactive in sending out more information that will help reassure new students and help them to make the best decisions about their future.

Both hotlines will run remotely from A-level results day on 13 August. Full training will be provided and supervisors will also be available to provide additional support. If you can volunteer please complete this form by 20 July.

Once again this work has required us to work closely with colleagues in IS UX– particularly around the design of a form to ensure it captures everything we need to know to be able to process queries efficiently. We’ve had to understand and introduce new software and adapt our physical call centre into a series of virtual ones.

The impact of the Coronavirus on student recruitment will not just be for September 2020. Any changes in undergraduate and postgraduate research student numbers will last for the duration of their studies.

In dealing with a pandemic we’ve needed to adapt to protect the very thing that makes the University a place of learning – its students. But what is also clear is that change can be positive, it can inspire new ways of working and collaboration. Through Discover… Something Extraordinary we were able to offer an open day experience to applicants all over the world and through changes to Clearing and Confirmation we’ve streamlined a process to avoid people being on hold for long periods of time on a phone line.

Many of these new ways of working will be things we can take forward to build on in the years to come.

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