Tradition builds excellence, but it must be combined with innovation for any organisation to survive in the digital age. We spoke to Andrew Hargreaves, Director of Customer Experience, Marketing and UCAS Media about how it’s shaking up support to help more school-leavers achieve their ambitions.


Tell us about the role of UCAS

UCAS is the world’s only national centralised organisation processing admissions into higher education. It was created by universities to support students as they prepare to enter higher education, and often to leave home for the first time, as they take their first steps towards a career. Higher education is a multi-billion pound market that is constantly evolving, but it’s also a highly emotional journey for many young people, so the onus is on us to be as efficient and supportive as possible.


Let’s put that in context – how many students are you placing every year?

We receive around three million applications from 700,000 students for 380 universities every year, and place 500,000 of them in our undergraduate service alone. But that only includes around forty percent of school leavers – we have a 50-year pedigree of getting students into higher education, but now we want to support all school leavers, whether they go on to university, to do a vocational course, or an apprenticeship. To effectively help students plan their futures, we need to get to know them much sooner in their education, and that’s the next challenge we’re facing.


How is your approach to supporting applicants changing?

Traditionally, we support students in their journey on to university: higher education is a big financial and life investment, so we need to help ensure students are going to the right places. Now, we’re broadening our thinking. We know that education has a social impact on individuals and the world around us, but we also know that higher education can be exclusive.

More young women go to university than men, which means there’s a risk of ending up with a population of men disengaged from education. And there’s an ever bigger gap between those from wealthier families and those from poorer backgrounds.  For example, we know that children from the private schools sector are more likely to use the ‘right’ words on their personal statements to win places, so we should be teaching all children to use these words. Salesforce is helping us to share knowledge like this to help bring more equality into education.


Why is it important to get to know learners better?

We need to start having conversations and building relationships with students from a younger age. At 14, students should be thinking about how their GCSE or equivalent choices will impact their future, how they can build their educational CVs and how to work towards a career that fits with their interests and aspirations. By the time they leave school we will have a personalised relationship with every student and be able to support them on whichever path they choose.


How is UCAS utilising personalisation to connect with students? 

Sending out one-size-fits-all newsletters isn’t beneficial to anyone. If we hold the data to segment our audience, for example by whether a student is planning on living at home or moving away, we can make sure we don’t send them emails about accommodation. Similarly, with social listening, if someone mentions us we can respond if they’re having difficulty with our system and need more support. We want a truly connected and immersive customer experience to get the best outcome for young people.


What is your vision for an immersive customer experience?

With Salesforce, we can build our brand, connect with our customers, and build profiles to enable us to deliver a one-to-one service to hundreds of thousands of applicants. It really puts the learner at the heart of the application process. We can already tell which applicants are most likely to end up in clearing, but by getting to know our learners we can deliver highly relevant communications based on their chances and their goals to help people find the right path.


What advice would you give to someone about to implement Salesforce? 

We threw ourselves into our Salesforce implementation, and got it up and running in a few weeks. If your business is ready for the change, then go for it. Don’t waste time over-thinking it, Salesforce is flexible and the support network is there if you need it. Finally, I think that Salesforce works so well for us because it’s a collaboration: by training our staff they can explore Salesforce and make suggestions, it’s not just left to the IT team to make decisions.


By using data to drive greater equality and more personalised relationships, UCAS can help more applicants achieve their goals. Find out how it harness the data collected on higher education and applicant trends to provide an immersive customer experience in the full success story. 


Ready to start creating those great customer experiences? Download this insightful and practical Creating a Connected Customer Experience guide.