The Challenges Ahead in HE Recruitment

February 4, 2021

Like so many other areas of the economy, higher education has been hit by a variety of universal and more sector specific marketing and communications challenges, in the face of Covid-19. 

For Emma Price, Senior Corporate Marketing Officer at the University of Bradford it has been the instability in an ordinarily predictable recruitment cycle that has presented the key challenge. Meanwhile Mark Garratt, Interim Director of Marketing, Recruitment and International at Swansea University places the inability to bring potential students on to campus as chief among the sector’s difficulties. 

Over the summer we created a number of student profiles for Bradford and the importance of the open day and applicant visit day experience was cited time and again as central to the decision making process. Taking these events online can clearly only go so far in replicating the in-person experience. 

Nevertheless, Charlotte Renwick, Associate Director for Student Marketing & UK Recruitment at Leeds Beckett University believes that Covid-19 has also highlighted the opportunity to improve and expand on-demand video content to help promote the university beyond the pandemic.

Three Distinct Markets

Most institutions need to service the needs of three distinct markets; local, national and international. The trend for stay at home students, up from 8% in the late 1980’s to 21% in 2019 means that Universities have both challenges and opportunities within their local area. This is not only reflected in the advertising and recruitment process but also the overall student experience which has often had a bias towards students enjoying the full on-campus experience. The role of the Students’ Union, once the hub of social activity often centred around alcohol and music, has now changed to a more pastoral role with a strong need to reflect a more diverse student body. 

International Recruitment

There are also challenges to be addressed in international recruitment, with Brexit reducing both  the accessibility, and potentially the desirability, of UK institutions for students from mainland Europe. Neil Turner, Admissions Officer at the University of Bradford, highlighted the move to international fees for EU students as a key challenge since the UK’s departure from the European Union. Mark Garratt believes the pandemic will have an impact in the international market as well, highlighting the increased uncertainty about a move to study abroad. 

While the UK remains one of the global leaders in higher education the lack of funding has been cited as a factor in a recent decline in global rankings. According to the World University Rankings for 2020, 18 of the 28 UK institutions ranked in the top 200 of the table have declined since last year. 

While the pandemic has accelerated innovation, in both learning and teaching through blended delivery, and marketing and communication, with enhanced virtual tours, open days and an increased presence within digital marketing channels, this lack of funding could yet cripple the sector at home and abroad. 

The Way Forward

We believe that one of the best ways to meet these challenges is to ensure universities have a clear sense of identity, and reflect this in all of its marketing and communications. 

While beautiful buildings and world class facilities look great, the true strength of any university is its people. Sharing stories of students, staff and other stakeholders brings the University to life and creates a desire among target markets to be a part of that vibrant community. 

You can see examples of some of our higher education projects here on the site and we’d love to discuss how we can help you meet the challenges of marketing and recruitment in these uncertain times. Get in touch.