Six Truths That Higher Education Institutions Shouldn’t Ignore

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The Higher Education landscape is changing but are the Universities in the UK keeping up with the changing needs of potential students?

Here at Platypus we have a wealth of experience in conducting research for clients in the Higher Education Industry and have pulled together six truths we feel shouldn’t be ignored as well as six tips to deal with them, based on our knowledge and experience in this area.


  1. Young people are making their minds up early

The decision of whether to go to university is being considered long before sixth form when most of the university communications kick in.  As early as Year 7 some students have already started to form perceptions and ideas of whether they are capable or want to go to university.  The path from sixth form to university is no longer a given, and their thoughts at this stage can influence their study choices and efforts from this point onwards.

Platypus tip: Universities need to start engaging with young people and their parents earlier.


  1. Uncertainty about future careers can put students off going to university

We discuss with children throughout their lives what they want to be when they get older but are we doing the right thing?  If a child can’t answer the question ‘What do you want to be when you get older?’ by the time they make the GCSE choices, it can lead them to feel uncertain about their future and confused about the decisions they should make. They can begin to question why bother going to uni when there is no obvious career at the end?  We have seen that these fears and doubts can also be fuelled by parents concern over debt.

“I don’t have a clue what I want to do when I get older. I like English but my mum says I should be choosing a course where I can get a job at the end of it.”

Employability is one of the key decision making factors in university choice but perhaps the definition of employability needs to be communicated more broadly and realistically to young people through career advisors and support mentors in school.  There is a need to communicate that employment opportunities, networking and inspiration come from being at uni and you don’t need to know your exact career choice before going.

Children should be encouraged to evaluate and re-evaluate their choices. They should be led to believe that their career is not a final destination but a continually changing work in progress that can lead in many directions. 

Platypus tip: Universities should lead the way in encouraging this freedom of thought through the case studies they select and provide proactive advice to key stakeholders.


  1. Parents and teachers are increasingly influencing student's decisions

In the world of Higher Education there’s always been debates around how much teachers and parents actually influence a young person’s decision to go to university. Our recent research projects have confirmed that students are leaning more and more on other people to help them make their decisions on whether and which universities to attend.

Parents are more involved in the decision of whether to go to university and also have a supportive role in helping their child make the right decision for them of which university to attend. They are attending open days and feel more of a need to understand the process in their role as supportive parent. Teachers – influential in opinions given on best universities.

Platypus tip: There are therefore now more stakeholders to consider in the marketing mix and it is vital that universities are providing the right information, at the right time, in the right way to these stakeholders.


  1. A 'typical' student is no longer a 19 year old school leaver

Mature students and international students are beginning to make up a bigger part of the picture and have very different needs and situations. 

Platypus tip: Innovation in course structure and mode of learning is crucial to attract these learners.  Universities can also not ignore the softer issues gained from understanding their situations and motivations which you can then respond to via the support and communications offered.


  1. Commuter students are on the increase

Which means the catchment to a university effects the calibre of the student intake.

Platypus tip: Universities need to look at strategies to widen their intake beyond the immediate catchment area.


  1. Students know very little about universities as brands

This may be because up until now few universities have focussed on communicating themselves in this way.

Students’ perceptions of a university are based largely on;

  • their history (red brick vs new)
  • ‘quality’ (how high in the league tables they are)
  • being well known for a particular course
  • ….and where little is known about the university, the City/Town forms a large part of their perceptions of that university.

Platypus tip: Universities can either try to increase their reputation ‘in spite of’ the location or (more successfully) work with it incorporating its attributes and personality into the university branding.




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Guest Sunday, 18 February 2018