20 May 2021
UCAS and Unibuddy: what we learnt from the pandemic

"Peer-to-peer is here to stay – applicants are hungry for as much information as you can give them"

Last week Unibuddy and UCAS joined forces to bring you a Unibuddy Virtual Masterclass. We’re still beaming with excitement after having 500 higher education professionals and students join us to discuss our current Higher Ed climate and the topic of the moment ‘The New Normal’.

If you were unable to attend the event, we’ve summed up a few of the key takeaways below.

Emma Froud Head of  Business Development at Unibuddy and Clare Marchant CEO at UCAS opened the conversation on The Student Journey: Moments that matter 

We learned: 

  • Gen Z are content with digital decision-making as a new normal. It’s important to note this does apply largely to applicants under 19-years old. Mature students are likely to apply later on in the cycle and not be as tech-savvy. 
  • Peer-to-peer is here to stay – applicants are hungry for as much information as you can give them. Over the past year we saw an increase in them reaching out online to hear from their peers and have their questions answered.
  • Surprisingly, Social Media isn’t viewed as important for student recruitment as we may think. Prospect students view university websites as more important. Your website is their key source of information, and virtual open days are what they find most useful. 
  • When it comes to virtual open days, under 40% of prospective students planned and attended specific sessions, most others joined as and when they found suitable. Prospect students want to hear from staff, look at facilities, hear from students and learn more about the local area and university culture.  


Megan Field and Edward McClaran from the UCAS Media Data Insights team led their talk on the  5 cycle trends you need to know about! They explained that despite the pandemic, there was a 5% increase on the 2019 cycle with  570,495 students accepted into university by UCAS in 2020. 

Here are the 5 key trends:

  • 2020 saw a record entry rate for 18-year-olds
  • Brexit and STEM trends continue
  • CAGS impact bigger than COVID-19.
  • Surge in demand for nursing
  • Online experience is key

Read the full report here.

We then held a session on Student ambassadors – what they are really thinking! Led by our Student Ambassador queen Georgia Horsley, we were joined by three Unibuddy Student Ambassadors who shared their experience through the pandemic and what they’re looking forward to in the next year.

They expressed some of the key challenges were getting used to how different it was not to have access to as many people as before. 

“We normally speak to hundreds of people and that’s now changed to only a few people so it has been different but nice” Robert Gillespie

“The transition has been uncomfortable as I don’t know what anyone looks like or where they are from but speaking to them has been nice although it has been different” Sri

“Although, the benefit of that has been treating everyone exactly the same and not making an unconscious bias when speaking to students particularly those from other countries”. Brandon Boyd  

And last but by all means, not least we held a session on Plans for 2022 – The new normal 

Our panelists included Dan Flatt from the University of Leicester, Jack Clare HELOA partnerships, Rebecca Hopwood from UCAS, and Unibuddy’s very own Laura Youens. 

Becky at UCAS mentioned the fact that “The HE sector has had to fast forward 5-10 years so it’s been a great learning curve!”

We also discussed the importance of creating a sense of belonging in student life post covid. “If we could bottle the sense of belonging, then we’d all be trying to buy it” explained Laura

“We are really keen on reassurance at Leicester, we are looking at giving that extra support using the peer-to-peer platform and using things like Unibuddy Live Events, to discuss the lighter elements of uni life, not just academic, but things like how do you cook a fajita?, We’re using our current students online to support this. What started on very digital in converting and recruiting students has now turned into something much more supportive and something that we’re getting some really nice feedback from, especially when it comes to things like mental health, Students really appreciate that” Dan Flatt 

Jack Clare echoed this view and mentioned they are “Ensuring we are ready for students with digital poverty and learners with additional needs. Coming back to the point about mental health so it’s really important that that is recognised”  

In terms of peer-to-peer, it’s important to ensure we’re “Thinking about the kids that have had covid, have lost family members, have missed school. We want to be there to be like an older sibling for them” Dan Flatt

You can listen to the full conversation here where they go on to discuss the initiatives they are taking to navigate the new normal and how they are ensuring their students and staff adjust.

If you enjoyed this event, then you won’t want to miss our Unibuddy HE Summits – this series of events will bring together thousands of higher education professionals across a three-week period to share ideas, tips, and best practice.

Book your spot now, we can’t wait to see you there!

Download our free guide now

Navigating the ‘New Normal’ – The 2021/22 report

Download now

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