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On Wednesday 24 April, partners and colleagues from across the UK higher education sector came together in London for Insight Day 2024. We unpacked data from the 2023/24 Whatuni student reviews, explored key student trends, and heard what students and parents most value about higher education. It was a fantastic day leading up to the Whatuni Student Choice Awards, hosted that same evening, to celebrate the top universities in the UK as voted for by students themselves.

The Insight Day conference started with an informative presentation by Camilla King, Director of Client Partnerships, UK at IDP Connect, and Ingrida Daujoti, Account Director at IDP Connect, looking at data from the 38,000+ Whatuni student reviews that have been collected across the UK this cycle to analyse how UK universities are delivering for students.

Key takeaways from the data show that student satisfaction is the highest it’s been since 2018 with the Student Support category seeing the biggest year-on-year increase. Looking at undergraduate students, first year students rated their university experiences highest, while postgraduate students rated their university experiences higher than undergraduate students. All regions across the UK saw an increase in student satisfaction with Northern Ireland seeing the biggest rise.

Data to drive portfolio development

Next up was a presentation by Amy Beckett, Data Analyst at IDP Connect, and Jack Neenan, Deputy Director of Marketing at SOAS, on the importance of using data to guide university portfolio development. Amy delved into an overview of IDP Connect’s domestic IQ data services, which draws on 17m annual visits across IDP Connect’s three UK student sites, available to help clients hone their brand impact, develop their portfolios, and forecast accurately based on real-time insights and student trends.

Jack shared some of the challenges that SOAS has faced with postgraduate recruitment, noting a bloated portfolio of available programmes and lack of consistency with delivery and student experience as possible reasons for this decline. He shared how SOAS used IDP Connect’s IQ services to help enhance their existing portfolio, drive growth of innovative programmes and invest in online teaching excellence.

On partnering with IDP Connect, Jack said: “Why complicate things? Simply put, IQ demand is the largest live dataset going – so that’s the tool I want to use. The fact that it’s real-time is very important to me. I am using the data to inform real changes to our portfolio... These are serious decisions that affect people – academics, support staff – so I need to have full confidence in the relevance of the data. 

“The IDP brand is well-known – this isn’t for my benefit, I’ve known and worked with IDP for most of my career, this is for working with internal stakeholders. When I present the data and it comes with the IDP branding attached – it silences any concerns over the integrity of the data. Academics know CUG, they know Whatuni, they know Postgraduate Search, and I can give them the numbers in terms of site visits, and that really helps me move projects along smoothly.”

By working with IDP Connect, SOAS was able to identify key and emerging student markets, understand postgraduate online portfolio gaps and which study areas could attract more students, and having a better grasp on who their key competitors are.

The power of the student voice

The next presentation by Ciara Mcnally, Head of Customer Success, The Ambassador Platform (TAP), and Dan Noutch, Digital Marketing and Student Recruitment Manager at Norland, focused on how to use student voices to connect with prospective student audiences. A standout theme was that the best way to build trust with students is through authentic and honest content, as well as storytelling.

Ciara explained that some of the most popular themes researched by prospective students include course information, entry requirements and student life. She also shared that LinkedIn is a surprisingly popular research platform for 16- to 18-year-olds when researching their university options.

Dan reflected on three of the most successful campaigns they’ve run to attract prospective student audiences, using current student ambassadors to curate content and build connections. He spoke about the importance of bringing prospective students closer to current students.

Gen Z: unpacking survey findings

After a delicious al fresco lunch, Emma Bridge, Director of Marketing at IDP Connect, and Jon Montgomerie, Associate Head of Client Success at IDP Connect, shared findings into Gen Z from IDP Connect research in which 1,607 respondents were surveyed (predominantly Sixth Formers, but also parents). Some of the themes covered included how concerned respondents are about the cost of going to university (and which factors are of most concern), what they’re most interested to hear from universities and how universities can best support them.

The role of the printed versus digital prospectus was also considered from the students’ and parents’ perspectives, and what the most important factors are for respondents in deciding where to study.

Student, parent, and career advisor panels

Concluding the day on a high and much-anticipated note were the student and parent/ career advisor panels, respectively. Chaired by Aaron Porter, Associate Director Governance at Advance HE and Chair at BPP University and Goldsmiths, University of London, the student panel consisted of five students ranging from year 12 to final year at university.

Students shared that some of the biggest factors when deciding where to study included the university websites, virtual tours, open days, university location, list of courses, and a welcoming environment. The panel was also very keen on hearing honest accounts from current students about their university experiences and liked the idea of in-person chats with current students.

Kelsey, a final year student at the University of Derby, said that as a student ambassador representing her university on open days, most of the questions she gets asked are about student life and putting people’s minds at ease.

Across the board, the panel agreed that a university degree still holds a lot of value, but one of the students, Beth, a final-year student from the University of Sheffield, felt that the reduced number of contact hours with lecturers is a negative.

Content the panel wanted to see on university websites included the student voice, clear entry requirements and courses, lecturer qualifications, USPs and alumni success stories. Key influencers were teachers, parents, and friends, however Kelsey mentioned that she actively went against what her school advised.

Other general suggestions were running open days by students themselves and keeping prospective students interested by posting relevant gifts such as hoodies or course-related posters to prospective students.

During the parent/ career advisor panel - consisting of four panelists - two parents shared their different experiences of how they support their children in making university decisions. Both career advisors spoke about how important it is for university entry requirements to be clear on their websites and the vital role of open days.

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Franki Clemens03 May 2024