The UK’s university admissions service UCAS has acquired MO University Assistant, a multi-language mobile app aimed at encouraging international students to apply for postgraduate courses in the UK. 

There are 450,000 international students studying in the UK, and UCAS says it is the largest single channel for international recruitment, being used annually by more than 70,000 international students from the EU and beyond.

MO started life three years ago as a scholarship search platform. It matches students to postgraduate courses, enabling multiple direct applications, offering profiles of universities and colleges, as well as providing accommodation and employment tools, in 15 languages.

The acquisition comes at a time of uncertainty in the UK higher education market, within which some institutions are braced for a significant decline in international enrolments. Jo Johnson, a former British universities minister, said that he expected enrolments of overseas students to decline between 25% and 40% this academic year during a panel discussion hosted by this publication.

Mark Felix, commercial director at MoneySupermarket Group, sits on the UCAS board and will chair the new MO board, which will be run as a wholly owned UCAS commercial enterprise.

Felix said: “The UK is home to the world’s very best research, technical, and teaching universities, and international students bring not only £12 billion into our economy, but also provide immense social and cultural benefits. International student recruitment is highly competitive and competitor countries have long been snapping at our heels to attract international students.

“If we are to deliver on the UK’s international education strategy to increase international students from around 450,000 to more than 600,000, business as usual is not going to cut it. MO will see UCAS play a new and much greater role in attracting and supporting postgraduate students from around the world, by creating a single, easy-to-use and welcoming front door to UK higher education.”

Aaron Powell, chief digital and data officer at UCAS, who will act as managing director for MO in the UCAS Group, added: “Applying to university is the one of the most important decisions anyone will ever make. We know students make multiple applications to different institutions in different countries.

“We believe a single postgraduate gateway, under the trusted UCAS brand dedicated to UK higher education, will enhance the UK’s competitiveness, and provide students and agents with unrivalled support throughout their application journey.

“For both students and their education advisers and agents, MO is a game-changer. The technology allows for a streamlined application process, eliminating the need to complete multiple applications across different forms, or spend hours searching for postgraduate courses information, scholarships, accommodation, and employment, in different places.

“We are especially excited about the value MO will provide for in-country agents and advisors. It will free up their time and reduce the level of administrative resource they need to dedicate to the application process, so they can focus on advice and support for students.”

Myles Jardine, founder of MO, said: “The UCAS brand is trusted by students, advisors, and agents across the world. With their expertise and connections across higher education, we believe MO can quickly establish itself as the one-stop, end-to-end, marketing, recruitment, and application platform that will fully support students in their journey to UK higher education, and better help UK universities attract and enrol more and more students from across the world.

“Everything we’ve done at MO has about been about enhancing the support students have when making that life-changing decision to go to higher education in the UK. That’s why we are so excited by this acquisition by UCAS, as it is an organisation that has the same focus and passion for students that we have.”

Joe Thomsett, strategy lead from Co:Evolve Ventures, supported MO with the acquisition. He said: “We could see no stronger commercial fit for MO’s future than with UCAS. We believe a marrying of UCAS’s world-renowned expertise in the student admissions sector and their student-first mission and values were the perfect strategic alignment to best support MO’s vision.”

Date published: 26 October 2020

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