by GK Strategy 13th November, 2019
2 min read

The university brand: keeping up with student demands

Seven years since the coalition government removed the cap on university places, the competition between universities to attract more and more students has soared.

With fees rising, and students demanding value for money, universities must think about how they attract students like never before.

Students have become “customers” and if universities are to remain competitive, they must go beyond pure academic reputation and develop a compelling brand narrative to attract students.

Are universities keeping pace with rapidly changing student demands?

It seems that a lot of universities have not done enough to keep up with student demands, which inevitably has an impact on prospective students’ decision of where to study.

In the eyes of a student, value for money is a key factor when deciding to attend university. Surprisingly, 62% of students don’t agree that their tuition fees are good value for money, reporting that they don’t receive enough academic support from their university.

Additionally 75% of students consistently request better learning resources and enhanced opportunities through digital tools and online feedback services.

Whilst academic performance is still important, it is increasingly important that universities recognise and fulfil student demands that go beyond league rankings.

Are student demands being met?

If universities are to impress prospective students they need to better understand their customers.

It is not just the “graduate premium” that convinces students to invest in a university education.

There are three core values that universities must fulfil; academic integrity, future employability, and most importantly, the value of the student experience.

The importance of student satisfaction ratings, which often include attitudes towards a university’s nightlife, student union, sports scene, creative and political scene, to both universities and prospective students exemplifies the need for universities to expand their focus beyond academics.

Issues such as a sense of belonging, university facilities, and the university’s recognition and treatment of issues such as climate change, mental health, and equality and diversity are of high importance to prospective students.

Students are increasingly vocal when presenting their demands to universities. For example, the issue of mental health services has garnered particular attention, with many criticising universities on falling short of providing sufficient mental health support.

Campus developments and the improvement to facilities is also a high priority, with construction rising by 43% year on year. Additional facilities, such as a student union, provide other opportunities, often offering a wide range of societies and student union jobs, allowing students to develop transferable skills beyond those in the lecture hall.

By recognising students as consumers and as key stakeholders in the performance of universities, it comes as no surprise that students are becoming more and more fervent in their demands for increased accountability and transparency regarding how their fees are being used.

Again, universities must go beyond this, and engage in a personalised and collaborative relationship with students, rather than just a superficial consumer transaction. There is much to be gained by listening closely to and meeting students demands.

The university brand

Clearly, to appeal to prospective students, universities would benefit by marketing the overall experience rather than solely academic performance. To succeed, universities must first ensure they have a brand that they can market.

Not only will this lend a competitive edge in the sector, but it will also develop loyalty from former and prospective students and enhance credibility. This will also benefit from students feeling that they are getting their money’s worth.

An effective brand strategy also increases the appeal for research funding, joint venture investment and corporate partnerships.

The depth and breadth of what a university can offer should be made clear in the core brand and this includes issues that matter to students, such as climate change, equality, and a sense of community.

The power of a brand

Universities must pay closer attention to how they are perceived by students, not just how their academic performance stands up against their competitors.

They must focus on ensuring every student has a fulfilling experience of university that can enrich their lives and careers.

Putting in the effort to create a powerful identity that outlines what a university can offer can have a transformative impact on the way it is perceived, both internally and externally.


Author: Leah King-Cline. Leah is an intern at GK studying Politics at Leeds University.

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