University of South Wales uses Unibuddy Community to improve the student journey
“There was a lot of functional activity happening, like ‘how to book your accommodation,’ ‘how to get your reading lists,’ but there was still this space that was lacking in community, for want of a better word,” said Recruitment Events Manager at the University of South Wales Andy Jackson.
Attracting applicants has never been an issue for the University of South Wales, nor has converting these students into offer-holders. Jackson describes the institution as previously having a “strong funnel,” with students moving through each stage of their decision-making journey easily.
However, in recent years and like many other institutions, Jackson noticed engagement dip during the pandemic, as students nervously awaited their exam results and were left “in limbo,” waiting to find out whether they’d be granted entry to their top university choices.
One thing that Jackson was keen to tackle was the “keep warm” stage between accepting an offer and arriving on campus, which is a common time for student drop-off (also referred to as “summer melt” in the US).
To reduce this potential drop-off further, it was important for USW to find a solution that created an affinity to the university—to make them want to stay. They also wanted it to be available for students who were unable to visit campus due to cost, distance, or other circumstances.
“As our Customer Success Manager will tell you, I was an absolute pest in terms of asking ‘when can I have this?’ because we were really excited by the idea.”
Before Unibuddy Community was launched, USW tried a few other solutions, including WhatsApp and Facebook, but “everything felt very owned by the university,” and prospective students didn’t feel comfortable with the environment they were chatting in, saying ”it feels like mum and dad are watching us chat.”
The team at the USW wanted to find a platform that was shaped by the students themselves and which “felt like their space” rather than “university-defined.”
Ready to practice what they preached, Jackson and his team enlisted the help of their current students when creating their Community—running focus groups to help decide how to label their “groups.”
They discovered that almost all students they spoke to identified themselves by their course groupings (i.e. “I am an Engineering student,” “I am a History student,” etc.). In response, they set up 24 groups based on the university’s courses and found this to be a success for instant connection. “There’s none of that initial awkwardness because they’re all going to study the same course, so there’s that immediate thing you can talk about.”
Nursing, Chiropractic, Film & Cinema, Criminology, and Psychology were their five most popular groups, with 300+ messages in each.
With many prospective undergraduate students around the age of 17-18, it was important to provide a sense of autonomy for the students, but “in a space that we [USW] could be confident was very safe, controlled, and managed.” Unibuddy Community’s ability for admins to dip in and out of group conversations and its moderation features (allowing students to report any worrisome messages) provided the sense of security they needed.
They invited all of their offer holders to their Community and also ran some competitions and social media shoutouts to give their Community extra visibility and reach.
“It really filled the gap that we had in the pipeline.”
After sending out their invites, USW noticed strong engagement. “When we sent it out, initially, there was a rush of people. Everyone started chatting, and they were very excited.” This stabilized as time went on.
They noticed another “spike” in engagement during August, around Results Day—when all UK students receive their final grade for their level 3 qualifications. People came to Community to discuss what grades they’d received and shared the excitement of their confirmed places at USW.
Students felt that being able to make these strong connections before enrolling made it much easier to meet people and “took the pressure off at the start of term.” Not only did they get to meet people, but genuine friendships started to bloom amongst the students. “People established their own friendship groups”—discussing living arrangements, meeting their future classmates, and even arranging to spend their first moments of university life with each other.
Did Jackson and his team manage to create the student-centric environment they’d set out to build? Absolutely! Students loved “having their own space.” Current students (ambassadors) were able to answer questions about sports groups, where to live, which clubs are best to join, and “all those things that are really, really important when you’re that age.” Jackson and his team intentionally left out staff ambassadors to ensure the space felt like an authentic student community.
“The future is really uncertain, and [Unibuddy Community] gives students a safe space to talk.”
Looking to the future, USW wants to continue using Unibuddy Community to engage its offer holders.
Jackson and his team will be embedding Unibuddy Community into their student recruitment retention strategy. For them, this means leveraging the product around key dates in the calendar year—for instance, the European consideration deadline in January.
They’ll also be introducing the concept of Community at an earlier stage in the student cycle to allow students to “dip their toes in.” Jackson wants to begin with a “soft touch approach” in their student communications and gradually increase the Community’s prominence and messaging as time goes on.
With more than 2,500 messages exchanged in the Community so far, Jackson is looking forward to seeing even more connections and friendships bloom.
“Probably the best thing about [Unibuddy Community] is that it didn’t require a huge amount from us. It was easy to set up, then the prospective students took it and made it their own, and then it just worked.” – Andy Jackson, Recruitment Events Manager, University of South Wales
An early adopter of Unibuddy Community, the University of South Wales wanted to use the platform to keep their offer-holders “warm” between accepting and arriving on campus, which is a common time for student drop-off.
After sending out their invites, USW noticed strong engagement. They noticed another “spike” in engagement during August, around Results Day—when all UK students receive their final grade for their level 3 qualifications.