Within weeks of COVID-19 hitting last year, entire higher education (HE) institutions retreated from the campus and pivoted to a digital model of teaching from the (relative) safety of their home computer screens. Yet despite their rapid response, few have been left untouched by the longer-term fallout from the global pandemic. This year, like none before, has seen digital recruitment rise to the top of the priority list as universities struggle to realign their budgets to the ‘next normal’.
A recent report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) stated that the Covid-19 crisis posed a significant financial risk to the UK higher education sector. It said that 13 universities would end up with ‘negative reserves’ and would be at risk of insolvency without a bailout. One of the biggest losses will likely stem from falls in international student enrolments (between £1.4 billion and £4.3 billion, with a central estimate of £2.8 billion). *
Large sector-level losses mask substantial differences between institutions. In general, those with a large share of international students and/or substantial pension obligations are most affected. These tend to be higher-ranking institutions. Some of the least selective universities, which rely largely on domestic fee income, will also be badly hit if higher-ranked universities admit more UK students to make up for the shortfall in their international enrolments. While recently introduced student number caps will constrain some of this behaviour, there are still likely to be falls in student numbers at the least selective institutions.
Many courses rely on overseas students to make courses viable. Students from China, Hong Kong and South Korea are particularly concentrated in a range of taught postgraduate courses. A reduction in students from these areas may force some providers to cancel courses because of lack of student numbers.
On 4 May 2020 last year, the Government gave their response to the sector’s calls for a bailout and announced a support package including an additional 10,000 student places, with 5,000 ring-fenced for nursing and allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services. Stabilising admissions means providers will be able to recruit full-time, domestic students up to 5% above their forecasts in the next academic year, to help reduce volatility and ensure fair and orderly admissions.*
Fundamentally, this means universities’ attention is firmly fixed on recruiting higher student numbers this year. Competing in a hungry pool for applicants, those with the most compelling online presence and targeted outreach into the social channels where students hang out (TikTok as a trending channel of choice this year) are critical to a successful return.
At Delete / Kagool we collaborate with our university clients to strengthen their brand identity, unique qualities, life experience and course content. We deliver engaging online experiences that attract, engage and convert prospects; then evolve student journey from enrolment to graduation.
Our strategic experience technologists collaborate with universities to ensure they deliver the very best digital outreach, experiences and interconnectivity for students in the UK and abroad.
Underpinned by a leading Digital Experience Platform of their choice, we adopt an always-on, student first strategy; plotting their journey along a digital roadmap of transformation that is driven by a personalised customer experience.
For example, we’ve partnered Leeds Beckett University since 2014, delivering a range of competition-beating digital products and services on Sitecore to attract, engage and support their 28,000-strong student body.
Our shared objective has been to design a transformation roadmap that that builds the university’s brand and reputation whilst meeting the needs of stakeholder groups and end users. Most recently we’ve completely reimagined their website, realigning their technology to their future strategy.
Our ongoing digital partnership enables them to be the best in the business, as we turn from digital engagement to enrolment. We are maximising conversion rates, managing the university’s digital media spend and ensuring the site is easy to navigate with highlighted key content and CTAs.
We’re now working together on Phase 2, focusing on additional areas of the website, such as taxonomy-driven dynamic industry hubs. With a whole CRM strategy project also on the go, Leeds Beckett is on track to enhance and retain valued relationships with prospects and current students.
For those university leaders with an agile mindset who are willing to embrace innovation, the future is bright. They now have the opportunity to rebuild and reshape the university experience to make it more relevant and, by doing so, attract the best students, ensure greater inclusivity and global collaboration, deliver a positive impact on our economic prosperity and reduce the cost of knowledge generation.
There is no going back to normal, only the next normal. And if the past year has proved anything, it is that the baseline is already in play. Now is the time to embrace, adapt and refine the model for future growth.
At Delete / Kagool, we specialise in digital transformation in collaboration with the HE sector. We proudly partner Leeds Beckett, Birmingham, Essex, Hull and Portsmouth Universities; as well as New City Colleges, London. Contact us to find out more.