Lessons from Direct Line

August 16, 1996

THES reporters on the annual race of students for places which gets under way this week with hurdles for both sides.

Paisley University believes it is the first higher education institution to set up a Direct Line-style service offering places to students instantly over the phone.

Alex MacLennan, director of external relations, said many institutions had helplines advising applicants on potential vacancies, but the prospective students then had to speak to admissions officers. Some had hotlines direct to admissions tutors, but they would be responsible for only some courses.

This year Paisley has streamlined the system with a helpline which not only gives information and advice about all vacancies available to applicants with particular qualifications, but can offer a place there and then.

"This is a single, one-stop shop, and that's the difference," said Professor MacLennan. "We visited the Direct Line insurance offices in Glasgow and saw how it was possible to do business over the telephone. We felt this could be used to make firm offers provided we knew what the entrance criteria were and knew what qualifications the students had."

The hotline uses specially commissioned software and asks applicants a series of set questions.

"The beauty of it is that you're generating the paperwork as you speak to them," Professor MacLennan said. "The immediacy is very reassuring for students at a time when they are naturally anxious."

Applicants will still have to send in their clearing form to be processed. The university stresses that it is not bypassing the normal Universities and Colleges Admissions Service system.

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