Meet the Glasgow entrepreneur tackling isolation and loneliness at Universities

Georgia Wheadon, founder of Umii

4,568 students starting at Scottish Universities in September predicted to quit, and this data is an “underestimate”, says Georgia Wheadon

GLASGOW’S Georgia Wheadon is the entrepreneur behind Umii, a tech startup that is tackling the drop-out crisis across UK universities. 

Georgia’s company Umii is predicting that one in ten undergraduate students starting at Scottish universities in September 2021 will drop out with no qualification. Umii’s forecast has been made following its own market research and combines data from higher education data experts HESA, Universities UK and IFF Research. The last reported hard data from 2018/19 reported a 6.7% drop out rate across the UK but Umii agrees with universities up and down the country that fear the impact of the global pandemic and its effects on students’ university experience will push this figure to 10%. 

That number is predicted to rise further for the coming academic year’s new intake, as the pandemic has hampered universities’ ability to offer a rounded and engaging student experience to new learners.

This is not only catastrophic to the higher education economy and the regions those institutions support – each student drop-out costs a university up to £27,750, or as much as £300,000 per international student – but also leaves a long-term effect on the lives of those individuals.

This research has been compiled and analysed by Umii, which has begun to tackle this crisis following its founder’s own university experience and her desire to improve student experience for future generations. Georgia Wheadon, a recent graduate of Leeds University, explains how her personal experience has shaped the rapid growth in demand for Umii:

“I found that I didn’t click with the housemates I had been placed with and there were few resources to help me connect with more like-minded people. Being a joint honours student also meant that I saw different people every day, making it difficult to grow close to anyone.

“Pre-pandemic, almost half of UK students (46%) admitted to having feelings of loneliness during their time at university, and a whopping 37% considered dropping out altogether. Through our work with Universities and Student Unions across the country we know that these figures are being exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Isolation and loneliness are on the rise among this current cohort, leaving them in danger of becoming a lost generation. I founded Umii to offer a simple and effective solution to reduce university drop-outs and deliver a better experience for students.”

Universities and Student Unions across the UK including Bolton, Essex, Hull, Salford UCLan and Wrexham Glyndŵr are subscribing to their own private Umii networks to offer students a safe and intuitive way to match and connect with like-minded fellow students whom they may otherwise never have met in a city of millions.

Georgia adds, 

“We built a simple interface to solve one specific problem. It connects individuals rather than groups, which is less daunting for more introverted and isolated students. And the technology uses parameters based on personal data including academic and hobby interests, as well as offering connections to support services if needed.

“During the past year of lockdowns, some of our users have reported that without Umii they wouldn’t have a single friend at their university.”

While the human benefits of Umii have already been proven in use by a growing cohort of thousands of early adopters, the universities themselves are seeing the business benefits. Georgia concludes:

“The total cost of higher education non-continuation is estimated at more than £200million a year and growing, and universities are seeking new ways to stem the flow. While traditional touchpoints have been whipped out from under them by Covid restrictions, technology has proven to give vital support to at-risk students and ensure their university life is sustainable. As well as minimising drop-outs, Umii also gives universities access to a rich source of opted-in, personal user data in order to better tailor services and offerings to their current and future students, and improve their league table performances.”

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