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Durham University nominated in The Higher Education Awards for Holly AI assistant

Durham University have been nominated for Best Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year in The Higher Education Awards 2021.

THE Award 2021 Logo

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your work make a difference in the real world. ICS.AI client Durham University have been nominated for Best Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year. Durham's nomination is for its admissions and recruitment AI assistant, Holly, which is capable of engaging with prospective students unlimited by time of day, language and geographical location.

Holly AI chatbot screenshot
Holly, Durham's AI assistant

Holly has been live since December 2020


400 prospective student conversations per week


49% of all enquiries came in outside of normal office hours


98% of all enquiries were answered successfully






Durham University had been seeing an increase in online enquiries steadily over the past years. Their candidates contact the admission's team from global time zones, often outside the regular working hours. With the pandemic affecting universities, Durham were looking for a way to make students feel heard and listened to when applying to university as well as streamlining the recruitment process from the inside.

Holly, one of the first Admissions and Recruitment AI Assistants in the world, has Chat, LiveChat, Voice and Virtual Appointments skills. It is pre-trained in hundreds of topics and is self-learning and multilingual. It works 24/7, which proved crucial as 49% of admissions queries come after hours. Holly knows when to triage to an agent and logs enquirer details into CRM, enabling human teams to assist users more efficiently.

Unlike many AI products, Holly provides Human Parity Performance, answering 98% of enquiries successfully. The Assistant has an ethical edge and responds appropriately to sensitive content, which proved beneficial given the anxiety many Durham’s candidates have expressed due to the pandemic.

Picture of Dr Cris Bloomfield
Dr Cris Bloomfield, IT Director of Operations at Durham University
"This technology is special, and Durham are paving the way for other universities to follow suit as the affects have been so positive. The praise for Holly has been unanimous and she has been noted as 'quick', 'responsive', 'informative' and 'accurate'. Holly has transformed Durham’s capabilities bringing AI and the needs of a modern university together to create a successful future for one of Britain's best higher education institutions."

Protecting the most crucial aspect of education – communication – Holly has positioned itself as an invaluable tool, and the team at Durham have paved the way for AI assistants to be used in higher education and have proved they are commercially viable with real worthwhile outcomes.

We couldn't be prouder of Durham's nomination, and we are motivated to take its capabilities further, ensuring the UK's education stays at the forefront of global innovation.

Webinar: Find out more about Durham's AI assistant


Let Dr Cris Bloomfield show you how and why Durham University improved their student recruitment experience. Hear ICS.AI CEO Martin Neale talk on how artificial intelligence can empower higher and further education, plus see a demo of our SMART chat platform.


About Durham University

Durham is one of the world's leading Universities as shown by their World Top 100 position in the QS World University Rankings 2022, where they are ranked 82nd. Nationally, they are consistently a top 10 UK university; ranked fourth in the Guardian University Guide 2021, sixth in the Complete University Guide 2022 and sixth in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021.

THE Awards

The THE Awards are widely recognised as the 'Oscars of higher education'. Each year, the event attracts hundreds of entries that exemplify the talent, dedication and innovation of individuals and teams across all aspects of university life, showing countless reasons why our institutions continue to prosper.

Announcing the Winners

Winners will be announced on Thursday, November 25th, 2021, and celebrated at the Hilton London Metropole in central London. This is the 17th year that the THE Awards will recognise the best of the best in UK higher education, across 20 categories covering all aspects of university activity. But this year's awards will reflect a period of turmoil and innovation necessitated by the pandemic, making it quite unlike any previous year.

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