28 / 03 / 2019

Winning back young minds to higher education


Chris Hodgen




In recent years, more and more young people have been turning their backs on higher education. There are many factors that could be in play, potentially influencing this trend. One of the most likely is a perception that universities may be promising more than they can deliver.

The simple fact is we can't market academic and vocational courses to young people today using the same messages that would have worked 30 years ago and expect to get the same results. The goal posts have shifted.

For the smart ones, getting a job doesn't have the same level of priority or even attraction as it would have had in simpler times. As for the less intellectually capable, they seriously question whether pursuing higher education provides an adequate return on investment.

A report in The Guardian back in 2011, for example, indicated that more school leavers showed a preference for apprenticeships, while others were believed to be seeking out lower cost education options internationally, rather than opting to study in the UK[i].

Traditionalists at this point may be scratching their heads and wondering why students would want to go to Europe, Australia, or even Asia for a lower cost degree. After all, there are so many fine education providers in the UK with a high academic standing, which can surely provide better career prospects.

The answer is that growing numbers of young people no longer trust in the concept of a career, and except in a few narrow fields of study, academic standing no longer has as much importance as it once did.

These students have seen the widespread downsizing and lay-offs. They're aware of the increasing amount of automation that is replacing workers in many different industries. They have grown up in a world which has been simmering on the brink of global warfare for almost two decades.

Those in the UK have also seen the effects of austerity policies eating into public education budgets, and virtually assuring the collapse of the NHS within a few years at the most. Who could genuinely have faith in a career in these circumstances?

This is why education marketing must focus much less on the external benefits of courses, such as employment, and should focus more on internal benefits such as what can be learned, and how that will help the individual be more empowered.

Marketing is serious business

It is essential to have a good marketing plan. Marketing in the education sector is extremely competitive. You have just a short window of time to capture the attention of prospective students because there are so many others vying for attention.

The formula for success can be boiled down to the right marketing partners, the right approach, and the right message. You also must allocate an appropriate marketing budget. It’s not optional, because without effective marketing, you cannot achieve growth in a competitive marketplace without doing any marketing.

Education advertising is not like other advertising, either. It is necessary to appeal to a wide range of demographics. These include young students, mature age students, senior citizens returning to education, foreign students, scholarship students, postgraduate students, and so on.

All of these demographics are actively seeking higher education places, but they are faced with more choice than ever, both at home and internationally. You need to be among the choices a student is considering, and the only way that can happen is if you have a strong message that is effectively disseminated.

There should be a core message that is at the heart of all your marketing, as well as individually tailored messages that are designed to appeal more to certain demographics without alienating any of the others. This is not always as easy as it probably sounds.

With the right marketing partner to help, you will find the process a lot easier. The most important thing to look for in a marketing team that specialises in education is experience. Of course a solid history of good campaigns is important too, but the key thing is that the marketing company should have an excellent understanding of the requirements for marketing in this special sector.

The challenge of marketing to younger people

Going to university or college is still important for many young people, but their reasons for doing so are changing. To make sure that you will be under consideration, you’ll need to tailor some of your marketing to appeal to their needs and motivations.

[i] Baker, Mike. Young People Are Already Turning Their Backs on University. The Guardian.
February 14, 2011. Accessed October 22, 2018.