Student Perceptions of University Communications in a COVID World

Student Perceptions of University Comms in a COVID World

16 February 2021Download PDF

Kendra RogersHead of Insight & Strategy

kendra@pslondon.co.uk0207 375 6465

The Covid-19 pandemic continues, and with it a host of communications challenges for universities. Prospective students need to know what to expect from their studies in the “new normal”.

At psLondon, we believe that insight is at the heart of problem solving, so we considered a range of questions relating to higher education sector communications: how should universities engage students with face-to-face events off the table for the foreseeable future? Is it worthwhile producing and printing a prospectus for this cycle? What digital and virtual tools should institutions use to share information and capture data?

We undertook some qualitative and quantitative research into current trends among 16-18 year olds to uncover key insights. Here’s what we found…

A personal approach

What do prospective students want? One-to-one contact with universities, be that members of staff or existing students, was at the top of the list. Automated, repetitive, cookie-cutter emails aren’t going to capture the hearts and minds of young people: they need to get a sense of a university’s personality, and what it would be like to attend. Email is of course an essential tool - it’s the primary form of communication that students expect to receive - but personalisation will be key here.

Personalisation is also important when it comes to data collection. Prospective students are willing to share their information with universities in exchange for tailored information: virtual open days and email communications about events relevant to their preferred courses are the most popular options. Other opportunities for data capture exchange include access to funding information or a printed prospectus.

Prospective students are pragmatic – they want (and will share their information for) communications that add value for them and make their journey to university easier. What will you offer in exchange?

University Prospectuses

Prospectuses have been a vital tool for university communications for decades, sharing a university’s key values, an overview of available courses and the things young people can expect from their life as a student.

But their role is changing - digital innovation has seen them form part of a broader communications mix. What’s more, since the Covid-19 pandemic such tools have had to do the heavy lifting that in person open days used to perform, capturing campus and town content to help prospects imagine themselves there.

Speaking of heavy lifting – some of them are pretty huge! When it comes to format, the ways of the past with bulky books, hundreds of pages and virtually no personalisation are just that – best left in the past. Many would-be students favour a digital document, seeing print as a waste of paper, especially given how online resources can allow for targeted searches. Others still prefer to have a physical copy to flick through and annotate at their leisure. Whether preferring digital or print, all prospects agree that prospectuses are often unnecessarily complicated and contain too much information.

We see many in the industry caught at the crossroads of print and digital – when in doubt, it can help to remember that (broadly), digital spurs interaction, print spurs action. What is the purpose of your piece of university comms?

Your university comms checklist:

  • Personalisation is one of the best ways to engage prospects, no matter the channel.
  • Make sure you’re adding value with your comms – ask yourself what purpose it will serve before placing that print order!
  • Consider the best use of digital and print – remember, digital = interaction, print = action
  • Student expectations are high – aim higher!

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