Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

H2020

UTFebSMEApp Report Summary

Project ID: 728910

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - UTFebSMEApp (UniTuition – Using internet technologies to upgrade and optimize inefficient university tutoring markets.)

Reporting period: 2016-07-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

PROBLEM

20% of university students seek extra academic support while studying for their degree. Tuition and resources are currently sourced through word of mouth, university databases or noticeboards. These methods are time consuming, inefficient and unreliable. There is currently no one place university tutors can advertise where they are sure their target market in a university will see it. More importantly though, university students don’t know where to look if they need extra academic support.

Currently students can spend days trying to find a tutor, and often pay very high rates for professionals in their field to teach them. These private tutors are often not familiar with students’ class specific subject matter, and students are regularly left dissatisfied. In these cases, students have no way to secure refunds as the private tuition market is completely unregulated.

IMPORTANCE FOR SOCIETY

Many university students cannot find the academic support they need at all. This is a big problem in highly specialized courses. This problem affects millions of students worldwide, and is contributing to underperformance and failure rates in universities around the world.

In all of these cases there are in fact numerous people in the university community who could help the students in need of extra academic support. Senior students and recent graduates who have completed and excelled in a class could easily help students to learn the material for that class. However, there is currently no way for these two parties to find each other and communicate.

OBJECTIVES

This innovation project aimed to solve all of these problems. The project aimed to provide university students with an online marketplace for extra academic support. This marketplace would enable all students looking for academic support to easily find suitable tutors, and would enable suitably qualified tutors to easily advertise directly to their target market. Once students have found their ideal tutor, they would be able to book their tutorial immediately through the platform.

The overall project aimed to increase the accessibility of specialist university tutors and learning materials, leading to increased knowledge exchange in university communities. The objectives of the feasibility study were to establish the technical feasibility of additional service features for UniTuition, identify key target markets in Europe and develop a detailed internationalization plan.

Specifically the objectives of the feasibility study were:

- To research the university academic support markets in European countries
- To identify key target markets in Europe
- To identify potential partners to facilitate market entry into universities in European countries
- To establish a number of partnerships in universities in European countries, starting with the UK
- To set up a pilot of the service in a number of these universities
- To establish the market validity of proposed additional service features
- To establish the technical feasibility of proposed additional service features
- To develop a business plan detailing the internationalization of UniTuition into European markets

CONCLUSIONS

TECHNICAL VIABILITY

The feasibility study enabled us to conclude that all proposed technical updates were technically feasible. All but two of these features were deemed to improve product/market fit:

1) The ability for tutors to upload content for students to download for a fee
2) The ability for students to upload documents to be proofread by tutors
3) The ability for students to request group lessons
4) A referral system through which users can redeem rewards for referring other users to the service (abandoned due to low uptake in testing)
5) The ability for tutors to list group lessons slots for students to book into (removed due to low use during the feasibility study pilot)

COMMERCIAL VIABILITY

The results of the research carried out during the feasibility study, including European country breakdown and analysis, partnership research and establishment and pilot launch and execution were unfortunately unfavourable. Increased costs of partnerships, advertising and therefore customer acquisition indicate that the service is not commercially viable with its current business model in any of the European markets researched during the study. The company has now begun to look beyond third level education markets at similar markets that may have less limiting factors, such as second level education or professional examination markets.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Market Research: Months 1-2
Research on university academic support markets in European countries and key target markets proposal.
Potential partner identification and preliminary concept validation.

Target Market Identification: Month 2
Strategic decisions made on markets to be targeted both for pilot testing and in the longer term.
The decision was to conduct pilot testing in English, Scottish and Welsh markets, and aim to target the Netherlands, Germany and France thereafter.

Partnership Establishment: Months 2-3
Partnership establishment in universities in England, Scotland and Wales.
This task proved challenging.
Costs were involved with partnerships where there had not been costs involved in Ireland.
Due to differences in the market, partnerships could not be established at all with Scottish universities.
6 partnerships were established in large universities in England and Wales.

Service Feature Development: Months 1-3
Development of the proposed additional features and updated UniTuition’s MVP.
These updates were ready for pilot testing after partnership establishment.

Service Validation: Months 4-5
Pilot setup and execution in six universities across England and Wales: Manchester, Warwick, Plymouth, Swansea, Southampton and Aberystwyth Universities.

Feasibility Study Evaluation: Month 6
All parties contributed to the evaluation of the feasibility study activities and the updating of the UniTuition business plan. This involved documenting:
- European market analysis
- Country ranking by product/market fit
- Competitive analysis of target countries
- Pricing analysis of target countries
- Potential partner list for target countries
- Problems and costs associated with securing partnerships
- Finalized high level feature list for the service
- Ideal development timeline
- Ideal market entry strategy for target countries
- Ideal internationalization timeline
- Staff requirements
- Financial projections, including profit and loss accounts, cash flow statements and balance sheets
- Highlights of major financial issues with margin and business model due to increased cost of customer acquisition overseas
- Initial analysis on the alternative international markets, including second level and professional examination markets

In terms of technical feasibility of the product the results were generally successful. However, the results of the feasibility study were unfortunately unfavourable in terms of European market expansion.Only 18 lessons were booked in UK countries during the pilot. Due to heightened competition in England and Wales compared to Ireland, the cost of advertising to the student target market was almost ten times higher. The feasibility study budget would not allow for the high costs evidently involved in communicating UniTuition's message to its target audience. The team could not find a route to market that made financial sense, as the cost of customer acquisition was far too high compared to customer lifetime value.

There is a potential opportunity for the service to be used in alternative education markets, where cheaper alternative routes to market may be an option. Further research is needed to establish whether moving into adjacent markets in European countries is a viable strategy for the business.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The feasibility study results indicate that the service is not feasible with its current business model in third level markets in Europe outside of Ireland. The expansion of the UniTuition service to third level European markets has therefore been paused indefinitely.

The company has now begun to look to other markets where limiting factors unearthed in the feasibility study may not be an issue. Initial research suggests that in the second level student market (i.e. Leaving Cert / GCSEs / A-Levels / Baccalaureate etc.) the lifetime value of a customer is approx.10 times higher than in the university student market. This is due to the fact that it is usually parents paying for the lessons, so there is more money in the market. Students also tend to need a lesson every week for a year or two rather than a few lessons immediately before exams. The problem of finding suitable tutors easily also exists in this market - It can be difficult for students and parents to find a tutor in the local area who can provide the academic support needed. It therefore makes sense for the company to shift focus from testing feasibility in university markets to second level markets.

Related information

Record Number: 198259 / Last updated on: 2017-05-18
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