As 2021 draws to a close, it’s clear that some of the trends that have permeated the year show no sign of slowing. The Covid-19 pandemic has had far reaching ramifications for the higher education sector, some of which, such as the accelerated shift to digital, will be here to stay. However, although the pandemic has dominated decisions and discussions, it has not been the only story of significance in 2021. Universities have started to feel the pinch of Brexit, with European student numbers down, and the audience segment has continued to change, with an ever increasing rise in direct and mature students, and the 18-year-old demographic on the rise for the first time.
So what trends will continue on into 2022, and what else can student marketers expect? We’ve put together a guide with our predictions to help you plan your marketing and recruitment strategy for the year ahead.
Institutions often look to the data to guide decisions, but marketing and admissions teams don’t always have real-time access to it, and this means that many institutions can lack market orientation. Equally important as understanding your institution’s own data is having visibility of data sources from across the sector to support your marketing strategy.
Rather than relying on static reports or paying costly licence fees for access, we will see a trend towards free access to live data, with democratised availability of the best resources to power your decision making.
Akero Data Labs is the first step for us on that journey, and 2022 is going to be a hugely exciting year, incorporating more data sources and unique access to the right audiences for your campaigns, allowing you to predict student behaviours to create informed advertising plans and, ultimately, gain that competitive edge.
As our survey with THE at the beginning of this year showed, marketers' targets are increasing while their budgets remain static.
We don’t see this trend stopping anytime soon, so it’s going to be vital to not only demonstrate real ROI from your campaign activities but to also capture the insight that will enable you to have data-informed conversations with your finance department when budget reviews are happening.
To do this, integration of your technology stack is vital, so that the system tracking enrolments is connected to your advertising spend. This can be set up in Akero to give a live view of performance against objectives and performance of the advertising channels in use.
Costs vs. goals
Enrolments by platform
It’s fair to say that Clearing 2021 never really got going, with Clearing acceptances down a huge 33% (after 28 days) compared to 2020. Factors including a near-collapse in EU applicants during the Clearing window (down 56% year-on-year), turbocharged by Brexit and Covid-19, and very high A Level results following teacher-assessed grades all contributed to this.
However, we are predicting a busier Clearing in 2022, due to the increasing 18-year-old demographic combined with a gradual return to IRL exams.
And there are some key things to keep in mind when planning for Clearing 2022. Firstly, Clearing is increasingly becoming an active choice for students:
Fewer students contacted their original institution in Clearing 2021, down from two in three in 2018 to only one in three this year.
Double the amount of students (42%) had done research on Clearing in 2021, compared to 2018 (20%).
More students chose an unknown institution this time around - with almost a quarter (24%) not having heard of their Clearing university beforehand, compared to only 14% in 2018.
This highlights that many students are no longer simply going back to their original choice of university with lower grades, but are instead actively choosing to look elsewhere in Clearing. This means there will be more opportunities to capture these students and shows that the quality of your value proposition and being strategic in your marketing are more important than ever.
In addition, year-on-year we’ve seen “how the Clearing process works” and “when does Clearing open” being the top areas students are researching. This emphasises the importance of having content around these topics, as if your institution can provide the answers when students are looking, you may well be their first choice further down the line.
Ultimately, you should stop thinking of Clearing as being the ‘Black Friday of education’, and instead plan campaigns strategically throughout the year, to raise awareness early and to solidify your institution as a clear contender come Results Day.
In 2022, students will want to see institutions being more carbon-conscious than ever before. We know that environmental issues are one of the biggest concerns for students, and form an important part of their university decision-making. We also know that students are wise to greenwashing, so if a university claims it is sustainable whilst still investing in fossil fuels, this will put students off associating themselves with your brand.
With only 46% of higher education institutions on course to reach the People and Planet sustainability target, there are serious improvements to be made during 2022. Some may be hitting the mark already, but can you do more to improve your ranking next year? Making a commitment to sustainability will be an essential part of your brand strategy in the coming years.
So what are the key takeaways? 2022 will be a year fuelled by strategic planning (informed by access to quality data) to help improve your Clearing campaigns and overall marketing and recruitment planning. Integrating your tech stack to attribute enrolments to advertising spend will be key to boosting recruitment numbers and keeping marketing budgets on track. And embracing authenticity with actions aligning to key messages will really speak your prospective students’ language.
We hope you find this useful as we head into 2022. As always, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our experts if you want to discuss revamping your strategy for the year ahead.