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Is the clearing system far too late to attract students?

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Is the clearing system far too late to attract students?

As the dust settles on another year of the highs and lows of A level results, it once again got me thinking about how the digitisation of higher education could help school leavers to find places in universities more easily, and how those establishments might instigate relationships via technology with their ‘prospects’ more efficiently.

The process is a well-trodden path for school leavers. They choose five universities to apply to, await offers from each, and then choose a first and second choice if they’ve been lucky enough to receive two offers based upon their predicted grades. Beyond that, they must achieve those grades to ensure they are finally accepted onto the course of choice.

That sounds simple enough until you factor in those that don’t make their grades, make better grades than they were predicted and wish they’d made different choices based upon them, and those who have a change of heart about their selection of university or their subject of study. Whatever the reason, the net in which all of the above are caught is the UK clearing system. Universities publish the courses they have places for, whilst students hunt them out based upon the grades they got.

But is clearing too late to attract new students? Shouldn’t the universities be looking to attract students much earlier?

Student engagement

School leavers begin their search for institutions online months before they apply to their chosen institutions. Those universities that create a unified digital culture right across their institution including via social media, VLEs, the university website, email, apps, intranets and all other content accessible to on any device in real-time will attract the best students long before applications are filled in. This is the generation that uses social media ubiquitously – talking directly to them to entice them is easier than ever. It requires clear vision for what the future of our universities looks like based upon the technology available, and it will require significant resources to make those changes. Get it right, and each university’s brand will benefit from the changes, attracting school leavers to their digital doors months in advance of any formal applications.

The admissions process is simply one touch point in the complete lifecycle of a student from recruitment through to alumni. Universities must begin to hook students in by using their digital presence, their reputations and of course, past results to better effect. And no one is immune to change; even those institutions with the greatest resources and strongest brands must adapt. Digitisation represents the most radical area of change impacting modes of learning and accessibility to knowledge. Students expect to be able to connect with everyone from admissions officers to alumni representatives – and they expect to be able to do it online whenever they choose. Making yourself available is key.

Those universities that set their digital stalls out before the open days begin in earnest, will undoubtedly raise their awareness, cement their reputations and attract the best students – leaving the clearing system to simply mop up.

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