Student-staffed call centres to spread through UK

June 11, 2004

A rapidly growing call-centre business set up by academics in Leeds is to be franchised out to other universities, writes Alison Utley.

Just three years after its launch, Universatile Net Centres Limited is turning over more than £1 million taking calls for blue-chip clients and has more business than it can handle.

The secret of its success, said founder and chairman, Martin Clarke, a geography professor, is that it employs the UK's most intelligent call-centre workforce - some 200 students.

The business began with eight seats in campus accommodation at Leeds University, but it now has a 96-seat call centre working for clients such as npower and Halifax General Insurance.

Professor Clarke said call centres needed intelligent staff to provide good customer services but found it difficult to recruit them. "We have a ready pool of students who have debt and who find our work more rewarding than working in pubs and clubs until 2am," he said.

Students are paid the minimum wage, but bonuses mean they can earn up to Pounds 9 a hour.

The call centre's founders want to set up ten to 15 new centres in other British universities.

Professor Clarke, who also created the spin-off GMAP, an economic research business that was bought by Skipton Building Society, said he was aiming for a stock market flotation for the business in future.

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