What ran through your mind when the invigilator said “pens down” after the last paper of your pre-university life? Did you feel relieved that you could finally catch a break? Excited for the holidays? Maybe even a little lost and perhaps scared of what would come next? No matter what you felt, you knew that if you did well, the world was yours and you could choose any destination to study at. But come application time, this freedom to choose does become cumbersome especially for those of us applying for multiple universities across different continents. When this happens, we are thrown back to our schooling days of doing research, writing essays and remembering deadlines; again and again for each university application. Even with admission consultants, the process can still be messy. Just imagine the mountains of data that these lifesaving agents have to work with; a single student could apply to 5 US universities, 5 UK universities, 5 Australian Universities and 5 Singaporean universities, with each university having their own deadlines, essays and admissions test. As such consultants often end up with a myriad of messy spreadsheets tracking multiple students which impedes their ability to manage their students’ admission process effectively. Generic management platforms on the market also tend to be slow, cluttered and out of touch with the needs of students and consultants. Thankfully, technological advancements have opened up new avenues in streamlining the admissions process. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dee Mirai from Cialfo; to find out more about how their company is changing the way we apply for university admissions and about the ed-tech industry.
As a former university admission consultancy, Cialfo has a deep understanding of the problems that consultants face and now provides a simple yet powerful management platform dedicated to the university application process which:
1) Allows easy tracking of the progress of each student’s admission, for example; both students and consultants can check if essays have been submitted yet and when are they due for submission.
2) Enables students who have not started on their admissions yet to look up universities and what requirements (A levels, SATS, IELTS etc.) need to be fulfilled for admissions.
3) Provides an organised database which allows consultants and their managers to monitor the progress of their students and the performance of the consultants.
With offices in Singapore, New York, New Delhi and Shanghai, Cialfo’s web-based platform is used all over the world and is bringing the university admissions process into the 21st century by integrating modern technology into consultancy services to ensure that the information that consultants and students have is always up to date and easy to interpret. As such students can be assured of a bespoke university admission experience when they and their consultants use Cialfo’s platform.
Trends in the region
Ms Dee has observed that the pace of innovation in the education industry tends to lag behind other industries. This can be seen from the relatively low amount of investments going into ed-tech as compared to other tech sectors like fin-tech. In 2017, global investment in fin-tech stood at USD 24.7 billion (KPMG, 2017) while global investment in ed-tech was only USD 7.33 billion (Bizjournals, 2017). Clearly the ed-tech sector can benefit from more funding given that only 2% of the USD 5 trillion global education market is digitised. (prnewswire, 2016)
Additionally, Ms Dee expects university admission consultancy services to be in greater demand as more students study abroad. In 2015, there were 4.6 million students enrolled in universities outside of their home country, up from 3 million in 2005 (ICEF Monitor, 2017). This number is expected to double to 8 million by 2025 in tandem with rising university enrolment (Universityworldnews, 2012). Students with the desire to study overseas tend to apply to highly competitive universities and thus the number of international applications may be far more than the number of successful enrolments. For example, in 2012 around 465 thousand students were accepted into UCAS courses out of around 2.6 million applications (CONCENTRA, 2013). In the US, the top 10 universities have acceptance rates of less than 10% (Collegesimply, 2018). Therefore, more will require help from consultants who are familiar with the system, especially with grade conversions (especially students from countries with national qualifications that are not readily comparable with the commonly used tests such as the SATS and the A levels) and planning out a timetable to fulfil the tasks (submitting personal statements, applying for financial aid etc.) required for international applications.
Riding on the trends
Studying in a world-renowned university is a priceless experience that will imbue invaluable skills, knowledge and friendships that will follow students throughout their whole life. Many students realise this and thus are willing to spend on university admission consultants to increase their chances of successful admission. For the prices that consultants charge, they owe a duty to their students to add a significant amount of value to the admissions process of each student and thus a mess of cluttered spreadsheets and generic management platforms should not be the tools used by a responsible consultant to monitor students. Therefore innovation is required to bring order into this process and by harnessing modern technological capabilities, Cialfo has greatly transformed the way university applications is conducted and is set to benefit from the growth in international university applications. University applications are just a part of the multi-faceted education market and there are still many areas which are in dire need of reform through technological innovation. The global education market is still largely “brick and mortar” and if our Singaporean ed-tech companies can follow the example of Cialfo in harnessing technological advancements to contribute to the education value chain, they will be leaders in shaping the digital future.
Challenges in expanding overseas
When Cialfo expanded overseas, finding the right people to fill overseas job positions was a challenge. As with many ed-tech companies, Cialfo’s solutions are of a highly specialised nature. This makes hiring from foreign countries difficult as fresh hires will not readily understand the company and thus might not be able to perform their roles well.
Additionally, marketing the platform in different countries is a challenge as every country has distinct cultural nuances. For example a certain practice may be acceptable in China but end up being offensive in Vietnam. While these differences may not always be as outright and obvious, these subtle differences affect the way the people perceive content and plays a huge role in determining if the people will accept a company’s solutions. As such, companies cannot assume that what has been tried and tested in Singapore will work overseas. This applies not only to the company’s offering but also to the way companies market their offerings.
Planning for overseas expansion
Given that hiring from the country that they expanded to was not viable, Cialfo sent staff from Singapore to ensure that overseas office positions were filled with people that had a detailed understanding of the company. For other SMEs who wish to pursue this strategy but lack staff with the skills required by international job roles, they can tap on the Skills Future Study Award for International Business from International Enterprise (IE) Singapore; which provides $5,000 to eligible Singaporeans interested in training for international job roles.
Additionally Ms Dee stresses that the key to successful overseas expansion is to treat each country differently and conduct in-depth research on each market. This will involve analysing competitors and the needs of the market to determine if the market will be receptive to the company’s offering. Additionally companies need to study the cultural nuances of each market such as their slang and inside jokes. This information should then inform how content is published and how emails and messages should be written to reflect the preferences of the market. Additionally the way a company conducts business will also need to be adapted to the culture of the foreign market. For example when Cialfo expanded into China, they had to change their approach to marketing as they found the Chinese market to be more relationship-based as compared to the transaction-based system that we are used to in the Singaporean education industry. For SMEs who need help in this area, they can approach IE Singapore who will not only provide funding but also actively provide guidance on market research and also connections to industry players and governments.
Call to Singaporean companies
Education is in need of technological reform and Singapore is fertile ground for ed-tech companies to grow and lead this reform given our position as a hub for both education and technology. Learning from Cialfo’s success, ed-tech companies should not focus solely on improving teaching and learning, but should broaden their scope for innovation by examining the entire value chain in the education industry to find gaps which can be resolved by high-tech solutions.
Bizjournals. (2017). Global Ed-tech Investment Surges to Record $7.3 Billion in 2016. [online] Available at: https://www.bizjournals.com/prnewswire/press_releases/2017/01/10/MN84146 [Accessed 14 Jan. 2018].
Collegesimply. (2018). Lowest Acceptance Rate Colleges & Universities in America. [online] Available at: http://www.collegesimply.com/guides/low-acceptance-rate/ [Accessed 15 Jan. 2018].
Concentra. (2013). Most Competitive University Courses – Which are the hardest to get onto? | CONCENTRA. [online] Available at: https://www.concentra.co.uk/blog/most-competitive-university-courses-which-courses-are-the-hardest-to-get-onto [Accessed 15 Jan. 2018].
ICEF Monitor. (2017). OECD charts a slowing of international mobility growth. [online] Available at: http://monitor.icef.com/2017/09/oecd-charts-slowing-international-mobility-growth/ [Accessed 14 Jan. 2018].
KPMG. (2017). Global fin-tech investment sees sharp decline in 2016. [online] Available at: https://home.kpmg.com/xx/en/home/media/press-releases/2017/02/global-fin-tech-investment-sees-sharp-decline-in-2016.html [Accessed 14 Jan. 2018].
Prnewswire. (2016). Global Report Predicts Ed-tech Spend to Reach $252bn by 2020. [online] Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/global-report-predicts-ed-tech-spend-to-reach-252bn-by-2020-580765301.html [Accessed 14 Jan. 2018].
Universityworldnews. (2012). Worldwide student numbers forecast to double by 2025 – University World News. [online] Available at: http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20120216105739999 [Accessed 14 Jan. 2018].