University Challenge

Universities are facing a challenge. How to attract prospective undergraduates when more and more of them are sceptical of the benefits of a tertiary education when set against the costs of acquiring one?

Not so long ago, the only marketing a college needed to do was put together its annual prospectus and organise a few open days. But when you’re asking someone to hand over £30k in tuition feeds, that’s just not good enough any more.

That means you have to find other ways to communicate with students to show that you are the ‘go to’ college. But creating a new ‘brand’ in the first place and then communicating it to would-be students isn’t easy.

And, while universities may be very keen to develop a conversation with would-be undergraduates, the students themselves are less than keen to participate.

That means that, rather than seek information, confirmation or clarification from a college itself, they are more and more likely to rely on the often anonymous and sometimes inaccurate opinion of their peers on social media platforms.

Last June, the Guardian newspaper reported one international student on a discussion site wanting to know which university was best to study business. Academic reputation was one thing, but, ‘What are people like in these universities?’ asked the post. ‘I have watched some videos about Warwick on YouTube and it seems to me that the people are snobby and arrogant in contrast to those from Nottingham.’ Warwick was quickly defended by its members, but the student remained unconvinced.

An example that shows how important it is for academic institutions to manage their online reputations and how difficult that is to do. But it’s something that must be done, particularly as social media sites will often be the first port of call for foreign students – that most crucial of revenue sources – who are looking for the inside story on a college thousands of miles away.

However, to stand any chance of doing this requires constant and consistent communication, not just to persuade the prospective students that might go to a particular college, but also those who might influence their decision.

This can mean using digital and online communications (digital magazines, newsletters and prospectus) to take charge at least of some of cyber space, rather than leave it to ‘anon’ on Facebook or Twitter; and even creating dynamic publications geared to different readerships with short-run on demand printing.

No matter how you see yourselves, others can see you differently.

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