“The QS model is very simple. It’s an easy turn-key solution which generates enrolment without all the baggage of a universal service agreement, which is often the case with other providers.”
Felix Jelen, Assistant Vice President, Global Engagement, Mercer University
We spoke to Felix about his partnership with QS:
What challenge were you looking to solve by working with QS Apply?
“At Mercer, we are in the middle of delivering a 10-year strategic plan and one of the imperatives of the plan is to become a global university. My office manages the plan for the university which incorporates all of our outbound and inbound international work including international student recruitment and international MOUs, partnerships and research collaboration.
“What we wanted was a reputable partner for student recruitment and what we really like about the QS model is not being ‘cross sold’ with other universities in the organization’s portfolio. Many players in the space, especially the large agency aggregators, when an institution becomes a partner and signs an agreement you know that there isn’t exclusivity; people apply to Mercer and 25 other universities at the same time, which doesn’t allow for the institutional message and value get through to the market.
“With QS Apply, there was intentional focus from the beginning for Mercer graduate programs among the QS portfolio. We really got the sense and the assurance that cross-selling wouldn’t happen so it felt very much like a true partnership where we were working together for mutual benefit.
“The challenge we were really trying to solve was how to grow international student recruitment but in a very specific way and the partnership with QS lined up very well and established a mutually beneficial intentionality.”
What is the scope of your partnership with QS?
“Initially, we worked with QS on a pilot recruiting for graduate programs in South India, which we then expanded across all of India and then all of South Asia. We were so happy with the partnership and performance, from 1 July 2023 QS will have worldwide rights and we’re terminating our other recruitment partnerships.
“To begin with, QS was recruiting for the School of Business only so our MBA, Master of Accountancy and the really popular one is our master’s degrees in business analytics. There are plans to bring on board our programs in cyber security and pharmacy too, as well as engineering programs over the coming year.
“We’ve started discovery meetings with teams in Africa, Central Asia and Latin America and we’re very excited about where that could go. Currently, the university has about 3.5% international students and we’re trying to reach 7%.”
Did you consider trying to achieve your international recruitment goals with your in-house team?
“Partnerships are important for scale. We’re a small to medium-sized private liberal arts institution. We couldn’t really deliver the momentum we wanted with our internal team alone. We’re an office of eight individuals with a limited travel budget. To really make an impact in a market like India, you have to have people there every week of the year and QS offers that physical presence in market.”
How is your working relationship with the QS team?
“The QS team are good people who we trust. Having that trust between us means we’re able to communicate exactly what we want. The QS team works with us to understand what kind of students we’re looking for and to ensure that they’re viable applicants. This has really helped in terms of scalability as we aren’t seeing lots of applications from students who aren’t qualified so we’re able to process their applications quickly. This is because the QS team in market have such a good understanding of our admissions standards.
“Being able to speak directly to the team and set our expectations has been great. The QS team have the product knowledge and this has been invaluable. We don’t feel like we’re just one page in a 500-page enrolment guide but that we’re working together.”
“With the QS team in India particularly, we have weekly calls with our admissions team and bi-weekly meetings with our recruitment team. We’re in direct contact all of the time so it has been a really dynamic relationship and we’ve come up with initiatives together.”
What results have you seen from the QS partnership?
“The numbers from just the School of Business were incredible – an increase of 480% in one cycle. We got 138 deposits of US$2,000 from our first soft launch.
“In May 2023, we’re up almost 1,000%. We’re receiving 35 applications per day from QS. We’ve reached 191 deposits for Fall 2023 and we still have two months left.
“It’s worked as well as any of us could have hoped.”
Why did you choose QS over our competitors?
“The economic model really works for us. I think the reason that a lot of the big players have gotten into relationship problems with the universities they work with is because they often overpromise and underdeliver. They’re not as mutually beneficial as the QS model.
“QS has a flat fee per student, which is higher than what we’d pay on the agency market but we’re getting all of this value in conversion and QS enable us to continue our own in-house approach too so we remain consistent in our internal culture and values.
“The QS model is very simple. It’s an easy turn-key solution which generates enrolment without all the baggage of a universal service agreement, which is often the case with other providers.
“It can sound very tempting to hear that an organization will take care of everything related to international students but it becomes very involved with a lot of capital investment and complexity. This model doesn’t work for every organization at scale and it’s not always financially viable. To get an all- inclusive, on-campus contract, you’re often giving up 90% of gross tuition revenue for the first year of the contract. That just doesn’t work for a lot of organizations in the current fiscal landscape.
“QS offers an agile way to get into the space with an aggregator. The terms are really very simple and the play is backed up through action. We see this every day and I trust everybody I work with on the team.”
“We’re going to expand with QS and give QS worldwide exclusivity and see how that works and where we can go together.”
Why would you recommend QS to other universities?
“The two reasons I’d recommend QS are personalization and buy-in. When we started this project, I was talking to a team of three and I think now 12 people are working with us in India. It really feels like there’s a commitment to making the partnership work and sharing the responsibility.
“I never have to worry about any of our unique selling points being lost or our brand being mis-represented. That bespoke, personal attention and the desire to learn more about us has been huge.”