18 February 2015
Web Chat Software - Filling in Outreach Blanks
Outreach is primarily about nurturing relationships with schools and college to encourage students to consider your university for further education, but the responsibilities of an Outreach Officer may also include increasing the number of applications from mature and disabled students, as well as students from less affluent backgrounds.
Education liaison and outreach is a vital part of any successful university and, while difficult at times, is also extremely rewarding
Event organisation, relationship building, producing documentation, supporting widening participation and otherwise contributing to the development of school and college links – having too much to do and too little time is something that university outreach professionals will be familiar with. Busy periods in UK’s academic calendar can put a real strain on resources, leaving departments understaffed and without proper tools required to perform their job.
Since the government chose to close down AimHigher and Connexions in 2011, sixth-formers and FE students are left with whatever careers advice their schools and colleges feel they should or can provide – with no dedicated funding or statutory requirement ensuring that sufficient information is provided. For under 16s, the 2011 Education Act introduced a weak obligation to provide guidance, but without money, KPIs or any thorough inspection regime. This has left a massive vacuum in careers advice in sixth forms, one that universities need to fill through outreach programmes.
Outreach needs to be an effective way of widening access to those who are most indifferent to the notion that higher education is for them
The clue is in the name, to reach students you need outreach, but there are considerable challenges to overcome. Given the choice of visiting a school where 75% of students go on to further education and one where 5% proceed, it makes sense for a university to choose the richer target. Yet participation won't be widened if the ‘diamond-in-the-rough’ students at disadvantaged schools are ignored. The same can be said for remote schools. In London or Manchester, there are plenty of universities to cover the area. But more rural locations, like the far corners of Devon, stand to receive little to no outreach.
When your outreach team do visit a university the limited resources often require a hit-and-run approach. There is very little sense in raising aspiration for prospective undergraduates to then leave a carrot dangling. Ongoing engagement and support is required to nurture a proactive interest in your university among school leavers.
Click4Assistance works with a number of major UK universities, including the University of Liverpool and Glyndwr University, so we understand the challenges faced by outreach professionals and how web chat software can help. For 18-21 year olds of our generation the internet is like a second home and they are already well-versed in the use of web chat software thanks to the proliferation of smartphones. Take advantage of the behaviour of this demographic by offering web chat software on your university’s website – a communication channel that they are familiar with.
Next time one of your Outreach Officers visits a school or college, inform the students that you have university staff waiting to answer their questions online. Even better, build a relationship with the target institution and arrange an hour a day for a handful of students to chat with your team through the school computers. This creates an equal playing field, where students can ask questions anonymously and receive honest, objective answers regardless of their financial background, grade prospects or desired career.
In essence, web chat software acts like a dedicated Connexions service for your university, enabling your outreach team to drive traffic to your recruitment office who can discuss course choices, the application process, deferring and other option with prospective undergraduates. Since one member on web chat software can be twice or three-times as efficient as a team member stuck on the phone or answering emails, it makes sense to answer as many questions as possible early in the process.
Students stand to lose a lot from the careers education vacuum. Whichever university steps up to provide an innovative solution will yield the best results from their outreach programme. If you are interested in securing a strong talent pipeline for your university, then arrange a demonstration by contacting one of our University Coordinators on 0845 123 5871, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or initiating a chat.