top of page

Durham University transforms student recruitment, satisfaction and support with ICS.AI's SMART AI Platform 

Durham University, one of the top 10 universities in the UK, has recognised the need for excellent student engagement. However, with the pandemic and the increasing complexity of the enrolment process, Durham University sought to enhance their recruitment efforts and streamline IT support requests through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation. Durham engaged with ICS.AI, a specialist in conversational AI for education, after upgrading their CRM to Microsoft Dynamics and hosting a national AI summit for higher education with Microsoft. 

Durham's Introduction to AI

Durham University recognised that applying to university can be a stressful experience. They wanted to improve the student recruitment process and create a welcoming and engaging environment for prospective students. The university was intrigued by the capabilities of AI and saw an opportunity to streamline their enrolment and admissions process. They wanted to deploy an AI assistant that could help prospective students with their queries and make the recruitment process smoother. 

The Role of AI

  • Student recruitment – enhance student recruitment to increase income  

  • Student satisfaction – improve student satisfaction to improve wellbeing and retention  

  • Service quality – increase service quality to improve student satisfaction and NSS scores  

  • Increase capacity – increase capacity during peak periods to improve student experience  

  • Gather feedback – gain valuable feedback from AI data to continuously drive process improvements and inform strategy 


Introducing Holly, Durham's Student Recruitment AI Assistant

Durham University worked with ICS.AI to develop Holly, their student recruitment AI assistant. Holly is a versatile AI-powered assistant designed to interact with all kinds of prospective undergraduate students. Holly is available 24/7, providing around-the-clock presence for students whenever they need it.

Holly is designed to achieve human parity performance, ensuring that outcomes are as good as, if not better than, a human. Holly uses a robust language model that is pre-trained on thousands of education related topics and is integrated with back-end systems. This allows Holly to provide a rich, accessible and user-friendly experience to prospective students. 

“Leveraging AI to help streamline our application processes enables us to increase deflection rates and shift our focus from transactional interactions to more meaningful and personalised engagements with applicants." 

Durham Uni Logo.png

John Hemingway,

former CIO of Durham University


Holly has been successful in improving student recruitment and satisfaction at Durham University and has given the institution the ability to re-focus human resource and provide a better overall service. Holly has successfully handled over 55,000 student queries since going live in 2020, with 97% of queries being efficiently answered and gaining continuous positive feedback from enquirers. Holly has streamlined recruitment efforts for the enrolment and admissions team, with 40% of student conversations being logged directly into CRM for follow-up actions to be completed. Importantly, 45% of all contacts happen outside of core office hours when the team is unavailable, emphasising the importance of an ‘always-on’ capability’ and enabling human teams to follow up quickly and secure new prospects faster than before.

Key Statistics

Durham University Dusk (1).jpeg


student queries successfully answered since go-live in 2020


of all contacts are happening outside of core offce hours when the team are unavailable


of all student conversations are converted to CRM enquiries for follow up


bot efficiency based on user feedback and the volume of questions answered

Durham University Castle Courtyard (1).jpg
The acceleration in digital adoption at Durham is now supported by the use of AI, which allows us to provide prospective students with a 360˚ digital engagement experience and enhanced functionality over our previous approach.

The Future of AI Transformation at Durham University

Durham are in the process of extending the successful AI capability to enhance student IT support, utilising ICS.AI’s SMART IT Support AI assistant for staff and students to self-serve IT tickets, browse content and complete transactions. This assistant, named Chat-E Cathy, will become a single digital front door for IT requests, preventing back doors and channel creep. It has the potential to decrease support tickets by 40% and waiting times by 70%, with 24/7 digital self-service.   

Durham University is looking to extend its use of AI to international student recruitment and a wider range of student services. The university is also expanding its use of AI for insights and predictions and adopting AI across other key contact channels, including phone and email. With AI adoption, Durham University is building better relationships with students and enhancing their experience, offering the potential to increase income. 

"Our journey with AI enables us to build stronger relationships with prospective students, helping to establish a genuine connection with those who are considering Durham University as their choice of institution" 

John Hemingway,

Former CIO of Durham University

Powered by ChatGPT

Durham University are excited by the enhancements generative AI brings to the table. By integrating OpenAI's ChatGPT into their SMART Platform, ICS.AI is further elevating the efficiency of AI in higher education. Personalisation enabled by ChatGPT integration enables better relationships with candidates and students, leading to higher conversion success and retention rates. 

SMART Chat from ICS.AI.png

Like our other public facing AI assistants, Holly is custom built using our proprietary SMART: CHAT software. It's ready to work for you on day one with a pre-trained understanding of user questions and intents. Thanks to its patent pending mesh learning it is constantly improving. Drawing from its own feedback and other Assistants it's connected to, our assistants provide instant value with robust analytics to help your organisation grow.

Find out more about SMART: CHAT >

ICS.AI SMART AI Assistant Features

  • Robust pre-trained language model covering over 1,000 education topics  

  • Available 24/7 across contact channels (LiveChat, Phone, Email, Website chatbot)  

  • Multilingual in over 100 languages  

  • Personalised and accessible UX - WCAG 2.1 AA compliant 

  • Automated skills to increase conversion  

  • Integration with existing back-end systems 

  • Built with Human Parity Conversational AI and ChatGPT at its core  

Durham University is a UK leader in AI adoption in higher education. They have successfully implemented Holly, their AI assistant for student recruitment (which was short-listed for a Times Higher Education award), and are now developing Chat-E Cathy, an AI assistant for IT support. By leveraging AI, Durham is improving student recruitment and satisfaction, and streamlining their enrolment and admissions process.  

Feedback on Holly from stakeholders


The Students

Holly offers so many amazing and detailed answers to a range of questions. Holly can process the question and immediately send across any relevant information available, it is quick and efficient which is fab!

Watch our Durham University Webinar

ICS.AI Webinar featuring Durham University.png

Find out more about our journey working with Durham in our on-demand webinar.


  • Hear from Dr. Cris Bloomfield on the process of deploying an AI assistant

  • See some of the reporting and dashboards of what Holly is delivering

  • Watch product demos of how AI assistants can ehance the customer experience

  • Discover the power of conversational AI from ICS.AI's own CEO, Martin Neale

bottom of page