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Stephen Parkes is the founder of Go Enrol, an RSA Catalyst winning project that aims to widen access to higher education across the world. Since its launch Go Enrol has helped people in 188 countries discover, apply to and enrol on courses. Stephen's experience spans over a decade working in education and private equity with time spent in the UK, China and other emerging economies in Asia.

Go Enrol received an RSA Catalyst Award at the start of 2014 which helped us to fund research into what secondary school students cared about when considering which course to study and which universities they would apply to.

Tuition fees for UK students were much discussed in the press since they up to trebled in the 2012/13 academic year. When discussing what mattered to the students though, how much fees were, was just not an issue these secondary school students would bring up. When asked about it, they had opinions of course, but for most of the students who were considering university they were already on that trajectory. The trebling of fees wasn’t going to stop them going.

From this research done using the Catalyst Award we were able to adapt our website to better serve what these students said they cared about. This included an overhaul of our search page which saw location becoming a more prominent feature and the addition of city focused pages amongst other changes. We also implemented a recommendation engine in order to help raise awareness of other courses that were available.

Of course, that was not going to solve and answer every question that students and those supporting them had when looking for a course or university. We listen to all of the different challenges and try out best to help them. Whenever possible, we seek to scale our answer so that we can help others in a faster way. A good example of this is that we often get asked by students from Africa about scholarships. Whilst we don’t have capacity to take all of these students through the process, we do want to help them, and others, learn about scholarships. Therefore, we seed topics in our forum with the information and provide links to the relevant universities and awarding bodies.

Originally the idea behind Go Enrol was all about empowering students to make independent decisions through discovering, applying and enrolling for courses. Whilst the majority of Go Enrol’s users are happy to independently use our service, we found that there remains a large number of people who want to receive personal support. These are often parents wanting help to get the best for their child, young people with a lack of support at school or simply people who do not “get” the British application process. In order to deal with these enquiries, we established a University Admissions Consulting service and a forum.

The range of people who have used us for personal support has been vast. It has been everything from the 18-year-old girl in Pakistan who was determined to find a way to do her bachelors degree in the UK to a student from the UK who just missed their university offer and was reapplying, to a Middle Eastern gay man who wanted to study in a gay friendly city in the UK. The circumstances and sensibility of each student require us to do our best to accommodate their situation and what their goals are.

Whilst Skype and email continue to be the preferred ways to communicate with us, we try to be platform agnostic. If somebody wants to direct message us on our Twitter or Facebook, then we are there for them. Sometimes, they just want to be anonymous so our live chat box on the website allows for this.

The uniting themes of everything that Go Enrol has done are breaking down complexity and bringing people together. The value of such a mission has been brought into sharper focus with the anti-immigration and isolationist policies put in place by President Trump. Indeed, Go Enrol itself has been developed by an international team who have not been defined by their religion or nationality, but by their commitment to developing a platform which ultimately helps people from all over the world to progress and understand others better. I would love to hear from any RSA Fellows about how Go Enrol can help them and their communities as well.

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