When will we meet again? Establishing the best time to restart on-campus experiences for future students


By Dan Beynon

SMRS, in partnership with The Universities Marketing Forum (UMF) and 38 universities from across the UK, have just completed the field work for this significant piece of syndicated research into the application experiences and intentions of more than 26,000 prospective undergraduate students looking to start their courses in 2021. They’ve all had the unusual experience of applying for a university place during lockdown.

As discussions continue regarding current university students’ return to campus, our research considers when is the right time to restart on-campus events for prospective students in the UK?

This important survey stemmed from a question I was asked in February by Claire Brown, Director of Communications, Marketing and Student Recruitment at the University of Manchester. Claire and her team were considering the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the applicant journey. They were planning events for later in the year and wanted to understand when would be the right time to open up the campus for prospective students to visit in person again? And if they invite them, will they want to come and what kind of experience would they want?

At this point Claire and I contacted Mark Garratt (UMF Chair) and Angelina Bingley (UMF Vice Chair and Director of Admissions, Recruitment and Marketing at UEA) and suggested this might be an interesting project for UMF members to take part in. The response was overwhelming. It was clear that many people were pondering these same questions.

The research is designed to allow respondents to reflect on their journey so far, their experiences of virtual events and information sources, as well as the impact of no face-to-face contact. It looks at key criteria in decision making and then moves on to focus on the participants’ intentions relating to attending campus-based events in person, and the type of experience they would look for when that time comes.

The range of institutions taking part shows the breadth and diversity of the UK’s world leading HE sector. All the different Mission Groups and tariff groups are represented along with every geographic part of the UK. This survey focused on the domestic undergraduate market in the UK as it aims to answer questions that are specific to that audience. The full report will be shared with the 38 participating universities on Monday 26th April and they will also be invited to a webinar where the SMRS Research Lead, Rachel Ditchfield, Aimee Kleinman, our Education Marketing Consultant, and myself will share the report’s findings in detail.

We will also share some of the highlights of the report more widely so the whole sector can benefit from this powerful demonstration of UKHE’s ongoing ability to collaborate effectively and our collective determination to provide the types of events and experiences that prospective students want, and are comfortable with, as we move along the roadmap to less restricted times.