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Becky the bot chats her way to THELMA glory

The chatbot known as Becky, which was developed in two months for just £30, won the Jisc-sponsored digital innovation of the year ahead of Keele University’s immersive learning lab for Pharmacy and Radiography students.

The award was presented by Jisc head of higher education and student experience, Sarah Davies, at a ceremony in central London hosted by Richard Ayoade, star of Channel 4’s the IT Crowd.

Using AI and chatbot technology, Becky provides an instantaneous response and information to prospective students through clearing.

Becky was developed to provide a better experience for clearing students by allowing them to be made an offer via a channel this audience is more comfortable with. It was based on research that showed that the target audience are largely uncomfortable talking to universities on the phone.

During the development process, the team behind Becky realised that they could develop a bot that could take the user through the whole application process, including making offers.

A total of 89 students who were made an offer via the chatbot enrolled in September 2017, which represents a 46.6% conversion of offers to enrolment. This compared to a general conversion rate of 26%.

Leeds Beckett’s enrolment of students recruited during clearing increased by 11% in 2017 and the university estimates a return of investment on Becky of £2.4m in tuition fees.

Sarah Davies, who was on the judging panel, said:

“Becky the chatbot caught the judges’ imagination as a bold innovation successfully applied in a high-stakes environment: clearing. We liked the way a technology which had worked in other sectors was transferred to higher education by the team at Leeds Beckett and got straight on with answering potential applicants’ questions about the university, even offering them places.”

The judges saw digital innovation across all the categories, which also include outstanding estates strategy and workplace of the year, with plenty of examples of data-driven decision-making and dashboards across the university. “There really is hardly anything within university leadership and management which is still untouched by technology,” said Davies.

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