As another UCAS application deadline looms upon us and Student Recruitment teams have approximately three minutes before it all starts again, I thought it would be a good time to share some of my experience of the challenges faced by the families and carers of applicants in the north of England following the UCAS deadline.
As an individual who has been working within the fields of student recruitment, education liaison and widening participation for *cough* years, the variety of family experience and indeed, comfort, with the process has not evolved in parity with the potential students.
Of course this can vary between those who have attended university or in fact are currently doing so, compared with those who never considered pursuing education further for a variety of reasons. But if we could find a ‘uniform’ approach to support parents and carers, would this be considered useful?
For the last year, I have had the privilege of attending events to encourage students across the north of England to apply to continue their education in London. We can often think of stereotypical questions that others may have faced, the classic student at the London convention asking what tube stop Glasgow is near, being the urban myth that appears to come to fruition every year. I must confess I began this process expecting to be continually asked about the costs of living, safety and employability. But above all else, there was a fear of the unknown.
It is hard to ignore the issues of cost, certainly in areas of the north that have been hit particularly hard since the financial crisis of ’08. However, the key themes of what happens after the application needs to be addressed. It is inevitable that more pre-application sessions are available, because we want them to apply to us, but are we doing enough post-application? Many parents and carers are desperate to be empowered, to support their loved ones in a field that is ‘out of their comfort zone’. Others are used to making the decisions for their children and any to attempt to change this philosophy is unwelcome.
The standard response is of course, that they should attend open days and ask the difficult questions through the benefit of life experience for the sake of their loved ones. But if they have not set foot onto a university campus before, or not for some time since they graduated, is this fair? And of any benefit to the potential university?
With further questions likely to arise following the event, can your enquiry line answer these questions when they need to be answered in the evenings, or must they wait until the next working day? Is it really appropriate to attempt to allay fears and answer questions over email, when what is required is to talk to somebody, face-to-face.
This is where the Syno method comes in, providing support to parents/carers when needed. Our rationale is to provide face to face opportunities beyond open days and conversion events, by holding meetings in local venues so that the parents can spend time asking the difficult questions that may arise from an open day or other communication. Additionally, we have our own twilight call centre, taking questions until 8pm in the evening.
This year, we will be offering drop-in sessions within key postcodes to enable those discussions to take place. This way, we can alleviate the pressure on all stakeholders in the process and perhaps enable open days to become a more enjoyable fare for everybody. I will be providing not only information on my client, but London as a whole.
This way, we can offer a support service similar to that received by applicants in schools and colleges across the country. In fact, I am performing this function voluntarily for family and friends this year, and even on this small scale and it appears to work.
We have to be able to; discuss issues of concern, challenge stereotypes, build confidence and above all else, expand the applicants’ opportunities by taking the time to answer those difficult questions that we may take for granted in our work with local schools.
Additionally I have been asked to arrange to meet parents and carers at Kings Cross to guide them through processes that we make take for granted, such as the London Underground. I think this is a brilliant idea and have happily agreed. What we are left with is a support network, parents and carers learning together because they are desperate to see their loved ones succeed.
As the cap lifts and the market becomes ever more competitive, we must adapt and offer a different support network for our applicants across the U.K. and E.U., similarly to what we undertake in our pursuit of international numbers. In West Yorkshire, students have five universities vying for their applications, encouraging their parents to keep them at home for fear of cost. But as recruiters, we must try to protect the experiential learning journey, encourage social mobility and challenge all participants in the process.
It is no longer a case of agencies buying advertising space in cinema toilets or school cafeterias being the answer, or even cost effective. Yes we want to gather enquiry data, but let’s do so much more with it.
Education Liaison has never been more important and relevant because if we cannot convert the parents, then it all has the potential to go to waste.