This guest blog has been kindly written for us by Paul Raybould, Director of Marketing and Marketing Intelligence at QS Enrolment Solutions (formerly Hobsons Solutions).
The Government’s consultation into post-18 education brings with it an opportunity for the higher education sector to review its place in society and its offer to students. The future landscape of higher education is now often framed by uncertainty. What is certain, however, is that – as shown in HEPI’s most recent report – the demand for higher education looks set to continue over the coming decade, as the number of qualified young people increases. This is good news for universities. Yet, the increased student body will need top-quality staff to teach them if the demand is going to be met satisfactorily.
Recent research from HEPI shows that by the end of the next decade we are likely to see a net increase in demand for full-time student places of around 300,000. It is therefore vital that we listen to what this increasing number of prospective students think about their higher education options and understand how they make their decisions. This will help the sector to secure its long-term future and ensures that students are being offered what they and society need to grow and flourish, and that both parties feel they are receiving value for money.
Earlier this month, we at QS Enrolment Solutions (formerly Hobsons Solutions) launched our first ever Domestic Student Survey – created to provide a UK domestic equivalent of the International Student Survey. The new and unique research is the first of its kind to assess the decision-making criteria that UK students consider when deciding which university to enrol at.
As part of our new research, we found that nearly two-thirds (65%) of prospective students researching their undergraduate degree are also considering their postgraduate options at the same time. Of those, nearly two-thirds (64%) would consider a four-year integrated Master’s degree, showing that there is high levels of interest among prospective students for combining undergraduate and postgraduate study into a single course. This suggests that there is significant untapped market potential for universities that were to offer such degrees.
When thinking about what this means for the sector in the long term, Dr Diana Beech, Director of Policy and Advocacy at HEPI, has written about the talent pipeline that is required if demand for higher education is going to grow. She argues that ensuring a healthy pipeline of teaching talent for the sector will not be an easy task. With the current high levels of dissatisfaction reported by early career academics and disputes over pensions by academic staff across a number of UK universities, now is the time for higher education institutions to forward-plan and think seriously about what they can do to attract and retain top-quality teaching talent. This will ensure that universities can continue to enjoy the dual benefits of growing demand for university places and high interest in integrated degrees from prospective students.
To ensure that universities do benefit from the market potential of offering them, there may be opportunities to further improve the appeal of integrated degrees in the future as awareness grows. It is a concept that it is still somewhat in its infancy in terms of students’ understanding of the benefits, and they are commonly offered in select areas of study such as Engineering and Sciences. Given that integrated degrees already appear to be an attractive proposition to prospective students, now is an opportune time for universities to be looking at ways to develop these proposals to help students feel they are receiving greater value for their money.
Once we develop this understanding, we must ensure that prospective students are provided with the best tools and information to inform their decision-making. As we have found in the Domestic Student Survey 2018, the benefits of higher education options can be communicated most effectively by ensuring that the most popular channels are used. As our research demonstrates, despite the increasing use of online resources for prospective students, printed prospectuses continue to be preferred over digital prospectuses. Equally, open days continue to play a more pivotal role in the decision-making process for prospective students than any of the digital options available.
With the global higher education market changing and universities’ offers developing, now is the time for the sector to re-assess its offer to students and society. At the heart of the Government’s major review of post-18 education lies the need to drive up quality, increase choice and ensure value for money. With demand for university places increasing and a significant interest in integrated degrees, the sector must listen to its prospective students and those that will teach them in the future to ensure that both can benefit. At QS Enrolment Solutions, we will continue to play our part in providing insights and solutions to support the sector as these proposals develop.