The University of Sunderland is a truly international institution, with more than 24,000 students based on campuses in north-east England, London and Hong Kong, and global partnerships with higher education institutions in another 15 countries. Nevertheless, enrolling at the university, or indeed any university, can be a daunting prospect, particularly for students that are unfamiliar with the UK university experience.
That’s why the University of Sunderland operates a student ambassador programme to ensure that prospective students can get in touch with current ones. Irish Tony-Awusaku, a third-year law student from Nigeria, is one of the university’s ambassadors. “Some of the most common questions I get asked as an ambassador are related to the application process, tuition fees, or what the accommodation is like,” Irish explains.
Providing advice to prospective students is made easier through the THE Student Chat programme, a partnership between Times Higher Education and The Ambassador Platform (TAP) that enables institutions like the University of Sunderland to harness the power of their student ambassadors to reach prospects and better support their decision-making.
“When students tell me that they are looking to enrol at the university, I tell them to use the online chat because talking with current students is a great way of sourcing honest opinions,” Irish says. “Of course, I also advise potential applicants to check out the facilities, take a look at the university website and conduct their own research.”
“Student feedback is extremely important,” Irish continues. “It was one of the main reasons I came to Sunderland. I try to avoid saying things like ‘go check the university ratings’ because I think personal feedback and opinions are more important.”
Hearing from students directly provides a different perspective to the one that is usually provided by academics and other members of staff. “I think students prefer chatting to each other because they feel more comfortable,” Irish says. “I receive questions asking for advice on the application process, for example, that I don’t think students would necessarily be as likely to send via an email to the admissions office.”
The THE Student Chat programme is also a great way for prospective students to talk specifically with current students from the same country as them, with a similar personal background. “Because I am from Nigeria, I have had many Nigerian students express their gratitude that they’ve been able to talk to me through the programme,” Irish says. “You get the impression that they are willing to ask you any and everything about the university.”
Even during open days when prospective students get to speak to staff face-to-face, feedback is not as direct or up-to-date as when talking with a current student. The importance of this was not lost on Irish during a recent encounter. “I spoke to another student when she bumped into me on campus and she recognised me from our online chats,” Irish explains. “I didn’t realise the kind of impact that an ambassador programme could have until I met that person. It was amazing to see that I’d helped convince her to study at Sunderland and we exchanged contact details so we can stay in touch.”
Online research and emails to academic staff are useful for prospective students applying to university but they can’t match the honesty and authenticity of conversations with current learners