Uni Enrol: Offering easier access to higher education

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 28, 2020 - January 10, 2021.
Khaw (centre) with Cheah (left) and Loh: Students don’t need to call the schools one by one to find out what scholarships are on offer and whether they qualify

Khaw (centre) with Cheah (left) and Loh: Students don’t need to call the schools one by one to find out what scholarships are on offer and whether they qualify

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Uni Enrol is the largest student enrolment platform in Malaysia. It was started by three young men who came together to help students, especially those from small towns and rural areas, discover what courses were available to them at some of the top universities in the country and what financial help in the form of scholarships and PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund Corporation) loans they could access.

Rickson Khaw and Cheah Ken Hoong were venture capitalists at Teak Capital. Although the firm was not famous, it had invested in some well-known companies such as EasyParcel, MaidEasy and Groupon and successfully exited those investments. They were wondering what to do next, whether to get into another fund or do something completely different.

They did some soul-searching to see whether there was anything else they would rather do. “I took a four-month sabbatical and travelled around the world trying to figure out what to do next. I came back and discussed it with Ken [Cheah] and we decided that education was the space to be in. Education had truly changed our lives, and we believed it could change the lives of others as well,” Khaw tells Digital Edge.

Education is such a broad field, so the partners narrowed their focus and decided to provide visibility to the courses available at some of the best universities in Malaysia, the qualification criteria for these courses and the scholarships available. They teamed up with Loh Siee Hoong, a JPA (Public Services Department) scholar and top student who knew his way around when it came to getting scholarships and acing examinations. The trio decided to create a platform that would simplify the search for courses as well as scholarships.

“This is an area that is almost undisrupted and the transparency is super low,” Khaw points out. “I am from Taiping and Siee Hoong is from Ipoh. It’s very hard for people like us, from small towns, to gain access to information on the opportunities that are available in Kuala Lumpur.

A student checking out Uni Enrol’s scholarship-matching platform on his phone

“A lot of the scholarship opportunities start from the big cities. And by the time the information reaches people like us, the scholarships have already been snatched up.”

What was needed was a platform that would make all the opportunities immediately available nationwide so that students from small towns or even rural areas could compete for them.

Khaw says, “After much discussion, we started building the first — and still the only — platform that can do what we call ‘an eligibility checking system’. It allows students from across the country to gain visibility on which courses they are qualified to join.

“They just need to answer the series of questions that we have listed down, which covers everything from academic achievements, family income, sports and extracurricular achievements to cost and university preferences. Once they have keyed in all this information, our system will tell them which school will accept them, which courses they can do and how much they will have to pay.

“They put in the information at the front-end and our back-end will do the matching and calculation. We call it a Pathway Match. The value is to provide full visibility to students to help match them with the best courses and best scholarships.”

Khaw says Pathway Match is the most popular tool on the platform. “We try and make sure that students can use it easily and they don’t need to call the schools one by one to find out what scholarships are on offer and whether they qualify.”

He says Uni Enrol covers 4,000 courses at 76 universities, and there are 400 scholar­ships available for matching via its platform. The platform has successfully matched RM20 million worth of scholarships to more than 1,200 Malaysian students from 130 towns across the country over the past three years. “On average, our students pay 20% less in tuition fees for their higher education programmes,” he adds.

Knowing what the student’s family earns will help the platform figure out what income-based scholarship the candidate would qualify for. “On top of that, we can also calculate their PTPTN loan,” says Khaw.

Students who are not sure about what they want to do can fill in their academic achievements and see what courses are available to them. Once they have picked a particular area of study (such as business or computer science), they will see what courses are available at the universities that the platform works with and how much they would cost.

Students are also asked whether they would prefer to remain close to home or travel to some other place for their university studies. “After they have answered all the questions and clicked ‘finish’, we start to show them all the matching results. We also show them what the net fee will be, after we have matched them with all the available scholarships, so they can make a decision based on the net fee rather than the actual course fee itself,” says Khaw.

He adds that the co-founders envision Uni Enrol becoming the university enrolment platform of choice in Southeast Asia. “We want to be the place where all the opportunities are transparent and students can get all of the information they require without paying a sen.”

Basically, the company gets paid by the institutions when students enrol. So far, it has generated RM50 million in revenue for those institutions via the student enrolments on the platform, says Khaw.

How did the pandemic affect the company’s plans? “It enabled them,” says Khaw. “For the longest time, we had trouble persuading universities to onboard all the qualifications to our platform so that students could check them more easily. After Covid-19 hit, rather than us trying to convince them, they reached out to us about how they could get on board or how they could use our technology to increase their visibility.”

Although the company has been approached by institutions of higher learning outside Malaysia, the focus remains on the country for now. “Because we already have all the entry requirements of the local institutions, we are working with one of the government agencies to ensure that Malaysia is promoted as the place to study,” he says.

Later, the company will go abroad, but this will involve the heavy work of onboarding the local institutions there and adding their requirements to the platform to create as seamless an experience as Uni Enrol has achieved with the 76 institutions of higher learning in Malaysia. The company also wants to move upstream and work with younger students to help them prepare for their government examinations so they qualify for more courses in the institutions, as well as more scholarships.

“Many teachers are telling us that attendance rates since the Movement Control Order have been 70%, so it’s quite scary. We were wondering what we could do to help, and that is why we organised an SPM masterclass in November, bringing together some of the top teachers and connecting them with more than 2,000 students from 100 schools on our platform, to help them with their exam preparations. Hopefully, these students will get better results so they can get more scholarships and enrol in better universities,” says Khaw.

“We are going to help students cover major exams such as the SPM and STPM. After that, we will go to the Form 4 and Form 3 students to help them better prepare for their exams through Uni Enrol’s platform.”

The company is working with various corporates and foundations such as Sunway Medical Centres, Yayasan KLK and Cyberview to digitise the scholarship discoverability experience and has partnered with more than 30 non-governmental organisations, including the Federation of Northern Hawkers’ Associations, Social Welfare Council of Sarawak and Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia, as well as local media partners to promote education accessibility nationwide.