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The goal of Project 5-100 is to maximize the competitive position of a group of leading Russian universities in the global research and education market.

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The Future Is Now: How Universities Use Digital Technology To Recruit The Most Talented Students

January 29, 2019

Recent discussions about the employment impact of rapid technological change have often been polarized. However, the fact that both global workplace and workforce are rapidly changing is hardly disputed by anyone. It is also clear that while young people are mostly digital natives processing huge amounts of information on an everyday basis, often even the most talented ones don’t have a defined career direction.

Could a robot help universities find the most talented students? What can a school student's digital footprint tell? And what does it have to do with a state exam score? An answer to these questions could be a program that uses a smart algorithm developed by the Tomsk State University, a Project 5-100 participant. This algorithm analyses school students' behavior on Russia's biggest social media Vkontakte and gives recommendations to the university's recruitment staff. “You need to contact this person, she or he is a future IT star,” says the smart program powered with a super precise algorithm. Let us imagine that there is a high school bookworm, who is following the accounts of famous writers and is a member of several book-lover groups. The program registers these facts, analyses the data and recommends a faculty and even a particular education program that will suit this person with 85% accuracy.

“Our program does frequency analysis of the high school students are following on social media,” says Artem Feschenko, the project lead, Head of the Computer Teaching Department at Tomsk State University. Therefore, as the program is intended to help potential university students identify their subject areas of interest, researches are working to develop a solution for issues relating to guidance and counseling. After the program has finished the analysis, university staff may address prospective higher education students. “University professionals could tell them about the city of Tomsk, about the university and its strengths, and recommend education programs,” explains Artem Feschenko.

Readiness for such contacts is one of the necessary conditions of successful work with older teenage students. Artem Feschenko notes that high school students are less nervous and show less fussing when they get to know what machine algorithm identified as their current educational needs, what are the areas in which they may excel or educational means of self-expression it suggests. In other words, communication based on the information that came from the digital footprint analysis evokes positive emotions.

The scientist notes that this program analyses only user’s publicly available data, which is accessible to the public in accordance with the privacy settings chosen by the user, but not their personal data. This algorithm analyzes only publicly accessible posts and comments on user's page on social media. Comments made by users on posts in groups are not the subject of the research. “Of course, we cannot analyze user’s personal correspondence neither,” stresses out Artem Feschenko.

This smart program has already encouraged and motivated 200 high school graduates to apply to Tomsk State University last year, and 56 of them were enrolled. Data analysis and social media helped, therefore, to attract the highest quality bachelor’s applicants across 22 small towns and villages to the university programs, which have been out of the university recruiter's reach before. Researchers are currently upgrading and testing the algorithm to further improve the program’s functionality so that it could analyze the prospective higher education student’s publicly available status updates, posts, and comments.

Another interesting fact is that the applicants found via social media had higher unified state exam scores than applicants attracted by other means. The unified state exam is similar to ACT (American College Testing) in USA, Abitur testing in Germany and A-Level qualification in Britain. Moreover, their average school grade was 0,15 points higher, their average unified state exam score was 12 points higher. The share of high-scoring students and Olympiad winners among them was 5% bigger. There are more and more tech talent search modern technologies emerging all the time.

Tyumen State University, another Project 5-100 participant, has developed and integrated its own smart system for attracting talented youth. A mobile application for 6 to 11 grade school students launched in October 2018 was immediately met with significant levels of interest. Through the application a school student gets the opportunity to explore a range of interests and takes on activities, e.g. subject Olympiads, competitions, lectures, intellectual games and workshops.

The most active users with the highest achievements get individual bonus points. Bonus points are added automatically into a special database. The more you participate in different activities, the more chances you have to get bonus points.

Why participate? It is simple. For example, if you take part in a regional Olympiad in psychology it can bring you from 30 to 100 bonus points. Succeeding in some activities can score you even 4000 points at once. 1000 bonus points are equal to 1 extra unified state exam score when applying to the Tyumen State University. At max, a student can get 10 extra scores. Yes, it is official.

The app developers, who are Tyumen State University graduates themselves, are planning to further develop the project by using big - data analytics and analyzing digital footprints of every user. The aim is to develop and integrate a personal approach to work with children and young people based on his or her interests and activities they prefer. The application already has 3000 users from 10 Russian regions.

The average student across North America, Europe may change their program three times and then change careers several times during their lives.

“Students themselves are searching for a concrete decision to be made up front at the beginning of the university experience. IT is a brilliant tool for broadly engaging school and university students in career guidance programs,” believes Dmitri Tikhonov, Head of the SPbPU Career Guidance Center. Saint Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU) also trusts in IT-services when it comes to recruiting potential students and further counseling them.

Having already launched Open Polytech project operating through its own online-platform in collaboration with other online-education projects, such as Coursera, Lectorium, this university is up front about its career guidance programs.

”We are developing a new website and a mobile application for guidance assessment to reveal users predisposition to a certain subject area now. This application will also inform users about education programs that fit them and recommend events and activities worth participating in. Our main goal is to help potential students choose an education program, as choosing a major can be a difficult decision,” said Dmitri Tikhonov.