UK universities are deploying a myriad of marketing tactics to attract the attention of, and secure applications from, prospective postgraduate students, including what often appear to be complex scholarship offers. With UK demographics affecting applications from home students the market for international students is even more competitive.
In such a fragmented and diverse market how do universities assess what postgraduate marketing strategies are likely to be the most effective in the UK and internationally and how do they judge when interventions are likely to have the most impact? What evidence is there to demonstrate the relative importance of a scholarship offer amongst a range of incentives and factors which are influencing students’ decision making? And what type and level of scholarship is likely to have the most effect on attracting postgraduate students from both home and abroad?
Although some universities have conducted research with their own postgraduate students, very little is actually known about the impact of marketing strategies and, in particular scholarships, on prospective students. With this is mind creative student insight agency, Alterline, started a research project working with several UK University partners in July this year, to uncover new evidence on the topic and seek to answer the questions posed above.
Initial desk research for the project has shown that affordability and employability are key factors in the postgraduate decision-making process but that there is a crucial difference between UK and non-UK students:
- Understanding fees, funding and employment prospects after the course are key factors for prospective UK students
- Whilst fees and funding are important for international applicants, factors such as the institutional reputation and location carry greater weight.
Alterline’s project is exploring these (and other) decision-making criteria, and their levels of priority, with over 500 potential postgraduate students from the UK, India, China, USA and Malaysia.
The project is also investigating the wider marketing impact, beyond what is already known, about the reach of websites, social media and email communications.
And, of course, the crucial matter of timing is also being addressed – both for the marketing of Master’s programmes and for the offering and confirming of scholarships.
Another issue from the desk research is the variability in the consideration process of prospective students from different countries with Chinese students starting to look two years before the start date whilst other nationalities may start with less than a year to go. The project will provide further evidence to better understand this spectrum.
The fresh, independent insight from this innovative project will help shape postgraduate marketing and recruitment strategies and approaches to scholarships for the future and we look forward to sharing the findings with university partners in October 2019.
Sources: ICEF (2019), Educations (2019), Galan et al (2015), UCAS (2018/2019), TSR (2017), Uniquest (2016) and Sinorbis (2019)