It’s (HE) conference season again - this year it’s all about collective reputation and personal experiences
By Dan Beynon
This is the week between 2 of the HE marketing community’s most popular conferences. It was the CASE Europe Annual Conference in Edinburgh last week and next week the sector will head off to Geneva for the EAIE Conference focused on international student recruitment. It’s always an important time to catch up with colleagues and this year, with everyone fresh from a more competitive Clearing period than ever and heading into a similarly crucial undergraduate application window, is no exception.
SMRS delivered our annual student panel discussion at CASE last week. This year the panel featured 4 inspiring UG students from widening participation backgrounds who shared their personal experiences regarding their application journeys and their time at university so far. The students were from universities across the UK – York St John, Nottingham Trent, Sussex and Glasgow. They all spoke positively about the support they had received from college, friends and family but felt that they could have been given more information that effectively linked courses to careers when they were making their choices. The panel had not really considered the term widening participation in relation to themselves but did describe being very aware of other groups of students who were experiencing a quite different time whilst studying and who were enjoying a very different student experience because of their circumstances. They were asked whether they considered the idea of value for money during the application process and interestingly they all said they hadn’t. But now as undergraduates they said they thought about value for money. Perhaps this ongoing VFM debate has more impact on students in the system who have experienced the strikes and the politics within institutions than those who are choosing whether to study?
At EAIE I will be delivering a session about branding in HE. It will include the first view of SMRS’s annual research into the sector’s views on brand in HE (you can see last year's research here)and our approach to managing and measuring an institution’s reputation across different international markets. I’m excited to be delivering the session with Kerry Law, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the University of Nottingham and Diederich Bakker, Professor of International Business and Head of Internationalisation at Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen. SMRS have worked with Nottingham for a few years now and Kerry will be sharing their exciting story of delivering and managing a brand in the UK, Malaysia and China. Do come and see us if you are attending EAIE next week!
There were a lot of discussions at CASE of the many challenging issues that the sector faces and what needs to be done to shift the dial in terms of media and public opinion. The role of the Civic University was debated at length by peers, VCs and marketing leaders and I was struck by the contradiction between the declared aim of raising attainment levels across all demographic groups and the current surge in unconditional offers. This situation needs addressing before regulation is inflicted.
I have contributed some thoughts on the year ahead for Wonkhe this week. I think the sector needs to demonstrate much more clearly that Universities and their leaders are listening and acting on what is often quite legitimate criticism. I am confident that this shift can be achieved through greater transparency relating to fees, funding and value; an even more proactive approach to the big issues (diversity, mental health, social mobility) and a collective and authentic approach to sharing all that is great in UK HE.
In terms of marketing the challenge that is on the agenda at both conferences is how to make all the communications we deliver much more personal. It’s one of the reasons we host the student panel each year. Despite the headlines, most Universities generate very significant organic interest from potential students. Top of funnel engagement is huge. Success now lies in building much stronger relationships after that initial contact and making sure that we make the most of all the moments that matter during an applicant’s journey. Provision is no longer one size fits all and nor should our communications be. This isn’t about superficial campaign concepts. We need to get personal and provide a customer experience that people will love.