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Why Institutional Improvements Matter

  • 14 December 2022
  • By Jessica Turner

This blog was kindly provided by Jessica Turner, Chief Executive of QS.

Over the last three years, the global higher education sector has demonstrated its resilience and ability to reinvent itself following the COVID-19 pandemic and institutions are now seeking to understand how they can better manage and improve their performance. Current predictions estimate that the global higher education market could reach $433 billion by the end of the next decade.

An increasing market has led to increased competition, with universities around the world competing to attract students by demonstrating their strengths. For universities, it is vital to know how they perform not only so they can find students but also so that they can benchmark themselves against their international peers. Higher education performance insights provide the means for institutions to assess impact throughout the sector and amongst their competitors, using the metrics that matter most to them. 

Growing competition in the international market is also reflected here in the UK, where more students than ever are applying to university courses. Amongst these figures, there is a noticeable increase in the number of overseas students applying to study in the UK, with one fifth of Russell Group places given to international students in the latest intake.

The Government has already seen their International Education Strategy target to host 600,000 international students attained 10 years early and is now warning universities over complacency in maintaining these figures. Meanwhile, universities are driven by the squeeze of the current recession towards the lucrative fees supplied by international students. 

As the applicant pool grows, so does the need for universities to manage the diversity of their applicant pools, using benchmarks to assess how they perform in areas that most appeal to certain geographies. QS’s 2022 International Student Survey demonstrates the need for institutions to tailor recruitment strategies for specific geographies and recognise the various barriers that students face across regions. An example of this is that prospective students from China found the most important priorities when choosing a university were teaching quality and reputation, for students from India and Saudi Arabia it was also the offer of high-quality teaching, while for students from Nigeria it was a welcoming study destination. 

These global insights provide an opportunity for universities to compare their performance across a range of metrics, and in doing so provide institutions with a failsafe way to benchmark the impact of their brands. This could be illustrated by a university’s ability to recruit domestically and overseas, their research and faculty strength or the partnerships they have with businesses and wider communities, all of which are factored into their performance data. This not only allows institutions to assess themselves against their international peers but also provides them with the insights needed to assess which other universities may be suitable for global collaborations. Most importantly, the wealth of the insights that are available to institutions allow them to seamlessly integrate this data into their own performance goals. 

Universities can also utilise performance insights internally, identifying areas of strength they may not have realised existed, or areas they previously undervalued. By assessing these strengths in tables alongside other institutions, universities can identify areas that are not only strong, but also those which are potentially unique or sector leading, which can then be earmarked for future investment and development. This allows universities to prioritise financial allocations, targeting their research and staff members to the areas that can achieve their internationalisation goals and tackle the most important issues of the day.  

A growing number of higher education data insights now seek to quantify a university’s contribution to wider societal issues. As global higher education experts, QS is supporting the sector by assessing universities’ societal impact within its performance insights. Our performance evaluations have long looked at questions around corporate social responsibility, access and inclusion and the environment. A new framework ranks institutions’ commitment to good governance and their environmental and societal impact. The performance lenses go beyond assessments of the campus environment, highlighting the impact on society through their education and research activities. 

Such insights can signal a wider array of strengths to international competitors, as well as spurring universities on to ensure more of their activities benefit local communities and wider society. Further, with a growing generation of students who place greater value on social issues, higher education performance data allow students to see where their university stands on the issues that matter most to them. One example is how institutions seek to address the climate crisis, with data showing that 97 per cent of domestic students believe universities could be doing more to be sustainable. 

Universities that fail to utilise this wealth of data and to continuously manage and improve their performance risk missing out on the chance to effectively position themselves on the international scene, develop their institution based on their strengths, and ultimately attract the right students and staff. 

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