Student conversion specialist UniQuest has gone through a lot of changes of late – not least that of the job title of Jenni Parsons, who is now not just the product and partnerships director, but the director of partnerships, projects and insights at the fast-moving student engagement platform.
Parsons talks to The PIE at the first edition of the BUILA Conference since 2019 at the ICC Wales, attending with her colleague, UniQuest co-founder Natalie Letcher, to work and network with her sector counterparts once again after a tumultuous two years.
“I had worked in international education for about 20 years, and then started up my own consultancy,” Parsons says. “I was working with UniQuest at the time, and I’ve known Natalie and Rachel [Fletcher, co-founder] for a long time – that working together moved into me working full time with them, so it was a kind of evolution into this role.”
In her new role, Parsons liaises with UniQuest’s university partners, and make sure they are delivering “everything that we should be in the best way possible”.
She also monitors projects around looking at new innovations that could be brought into the company, and how UniQuest can “keep transforming the student journey”, as well as leading on all data pieces.
Working with Letcher and Fletcher has been a game-changer for Parsons, a sector that can often be largely male-led.
“It’s such a refreshing change to not only be part of a company that’s dynamic, talented and innovative, but to be somewhere you can create change as part of your job as well.
“As a woman who’s come through universities and sometimes felt the challenge of being a woman in education, it’s been really refreshing,” she says.
As part of that dynamic company, Parsons notes, UniQuest is always looking to grow, but the focus after a rocky pandemic is keeping partners and clients on side – a job that, while challenging, has been nothing but successful of late.
“After the pandemic, a lot of people have been saying they want to focus on one thing and make sure that’s good before delving into something else. We do a really good job for our partners – they return and keep coming back, and that’s what we love,” Parsons muses.
“Obviously, though, as a business we are always looking to grow as well and bring new partners onboard,” she adds.
“Everyone is looking for the new China, but there’s not really a new China because everyone would know about it”
UniQuest has grown as a company in a number of ways in the last five years, but one of its biggest leaps was its acquisition by Norway’s Keystone Education Group in 2021, combining its “impressive global footprint and student reach” to help more universities “reach their student recruitment goals”, Fletcher said at the time.
Despite being acquired by a larger conglomerate, Parsons is confident that UniQuest will remain just that – UniQuest.
“We’ve become part of this great company, but we’re still operating as UniQuest – we’re part of a house of brands, so we’re still getting autonomy,” Parsons comments.
“All of our partners are operating in the same way, but what it will bring at the moment is the benefits of all the other brands that are part of [Keystone’s] business.
“They have a lot of agencies that they’ve acquired as well, so all of that will be coming together as one entity that’s bringing all of these perspectives to the partners that are working with us,” she adds.
As part of her role, Parsons monitors and digs into the data UniQuest collects looking at the sector.
This year, as previously reported by The PIE, Nigeria is seeing some of the biggest growth ever, and is this year’s “big story”.
“Nigeria is by far the biggest growth market, and overtaken India in our data in terms of the volume of offers and firm acceptances,” Parsons explains.
“There’s some emerging markets that we’re also seeing – places like Iran are coming through, and we’re still trying to understand why that is a market returning to the UK, but at the moment a lot of postgraduates are coming from there,” she says.
According to the data, Parsons says, the traditional markets are also struggling, such as Southeast Asia’s undergraduate market, which is not “quite coming back with the energy we would have wanted”.
“Everyone is looking for the new China, but there’s not really a new China because everyone would know about it. It’s more about the diversification, getting groups of students from particular markets rather than thousands from one,” she adds.