Student recruitment in a digital landscape

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How can you organise an open day with global restrictions on travel? How can you show off Edinburgh without walking around the city? And how can you support and communicate with prospective students when they are spread out across the world?

These are just a few of the challenges facing the Transitions into the University Strand of the Adaptation and Renewal Students Work Stream as they approached the new recruitment cycle.

Staff from Student Recruitment and Admissions (SRA), Information Services Group (ISG) and the Service Excellence Programme (SEP) with input from Communications and Marketing (CAM), have come together and worked incredibly hard to create a successful digital experience in place of the usual open days. Sharing insights and best practice allowed the teams to collaborate across projects and provide valuable input. So what have they been working on?

Virtual Visit

Building an interactive map, based on illustrations by fellow staff member and Edinburgh College of Art alumna, Victoria Ball, the student recruitment teams within SRA have created an impressive resource for potential students to explore. The Virtual Visit website helps showcase what Edinburgh has to offer, and what to expect if they choose to move here. Users can choose to follow guided tours, or explore the map themselves, while the illustrations, images and videos are tailored specifically to either undergraduate or postgraduate options. It also links in with upcoming events and the UniBuddy project. The Virtual Visit website.A laptop screen shows the interactive map of the virtual visit


Led by Student Ambassador Manager, Liz McNicol, and supported by the UG recruitment team and the Edinburgh Global Business Unit, SRA have also been working on rolling out the new UniBuddy project. Using a safe online platform, UniBuddy allows prospective students to talk to current students and ask questions about life at Edinburgh. After a successful pilot, the team will be recruiting and adding more postgraduate ambassadors later this month.

Visit the Undergraduate 2021 study website to read more about UniBuddy.

Large Events

A huge challenge of moving open days online, was finding a way to host the large events that are integral to the usual programme. This problem isn’t unique to student recruitment, so SRA joined forces with the Careers Service, the Business School and Accommodation, Catering and Events, to become early adopters of a new platform called EventsAir that will become part of the IS Online and Digital Events Service.  The platform allows large groups of people to join live and pre-recorded events, meaning the virtual open days can continue to include their usual talks and events from Schools, Colleges and teams across the University.

Professor Colm Harmon, Vice-Principal Students said, “It is useful to remember in these strange times that the University has been shaping a stronger concept of community, of belonging. The current challenges simply amplify the need for this. The Virtual Visit gives a sense of assurance as much as information to applicants on what life in Edinburgh is like, and really gives the sense of being able to ‘project’ yourself into life and study here. Similarly Unibuddy is fundamentally about providing a sense of belonging to a prospective student – giving them access to someone who can tell them honestly and as a friend what the University is like. These are big improvements in how we look to the world.”

The Postgraduate Virtual Open Week this month was a huge success, with more than 4,000 individuals logging in over the course of the live event, and on-demand content available to view for a further two weeks. A huge 99 per cent of survey respondents said they would recommend this event to others.

Preparations continue for the Undergraduate Virtual Open Days on Sat 21 and Fri 27 November. Please feel free to share the details and resources with colleagues.