Hats off to the shortlisted institutions for the Think Student Awards in 2021; these institutions have gone above and beyond this year to support the students in one of the toughest academic years on record. But, through harnessing the platforms and understanding their potential, these institutions have curried favour with the students. But the question remains - who will take home the gold?

Let’s take a look at the shortlist.

Shortlisted for Best Use of User Generated Content

BIMM Institute: Music at the heart 

Music is what makes BIMM sing, and they harnessed that USP in their #MusicMadeUs campaign, where students had the chance to get creative and showcase the city through melodies. Organic, authentic student-led content was popular through uniting their shared passion. 

University of Aberdeen: A lesson in connection 

Data shows students often know little about Aberdeen and its surrounding area; however, once exposed to it they feel connected to and excited by the prospect. Their ‘In Focus’ Instagram campaign is a long-term project celebrating the people, places, culture and history of North-East Scotland through a kaleidoscope of imagery generated both by those living in the area and those passing through.

Wesleyan Financial Services: Walking students through the Wes next step

Wesleyan Financial Services offers financial advice to some of society’s most trusted professionals including doctors and dentists. The Next Step programme was designed to create an immersive, inclusive experience that encourages debate and participation amongst medical and dental students in the final year of their studies, as they prepare and transition into working life. The Next Step programme continues to evolve, and we are now working to further develop the programme to incorporate early careers guidance, staying true to our commitment to provide support where it is needed most.

Shortlisted for Best Campaign Supporting Sustainability

Manchester Metropolitan University

Manchester Metropolitan University ranks within the top three of the People and Planet University League and within the top 100 universities globally in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. And if that didn’t impress enough, then their fellow student Sustainability Ambassadors sought to bring home the message on social media with a ‘virtual flower garden’ student takeover and Q&A addressing students’ concerns around green issues.

University of Bristol Students' Union

Through a combination of city-based imagery, humorous memes and video content, the University of Bristol kept their students engaged around the climate emergency and sustainability in a way that was engaging and relatable.

And to avoid greenwashing, UOB curated thematic content throughout the month to raise broader awareness around the topics being discussed, resulting in campaigns that engaged a wider reach, able to pivot and react to new topics as they flooded in. 

Leeds University

Leeds was faced with a dilemma: How to get students to reduce their purchase of single-use plastic water bottles and switch to refillable alternatives? Through a design competition, the #2023plasticfree pledge encouraged students to get creative and have the chance to showcase their work campus-wide. 260 students took part, with the winning poster illustrating that with every plastic bottle we throw out, we pose a threat to animals that share the ground we walk on. And this message resonated with the students. 

Shortlisted for Best Campaign Supporting Student Wellbeing

Southern Regional College

Mental health is a perennial challenge for students, but the pandemic highlighted the need for more support around wellbeing. So, this World Mental Health Day, Southern Regional College took to social media to deliver important messages around movement, food and creativity, all linked with mental health. With talks from experts at the institution, Southern Regional College showed itself to be an institution in tune with the students’ needs, and willing to offer support at any time. 


Plymouth College of Art

Plymouth College of Art’s Student Union is run by a small team focussed on student wellbeing, mental health and welfare, providing an inclusive, welcoming environment. The dedication of the SU really shines at Plymouth College of Art, with president Harriet running the SU Food Bank from her flat during the first lockdown, hand-packing and coordinating the delivery of parcels of food, sanitary products and toiletries to students self-isolating or experiencing financial hardship. The SU is the heart of the institution, allowing a safe space for students and a hub for them to contribute to the causes they care about. Championing student-led initiatives is key to showing prospective and current students a space where they can make a difference. 


UCLan Students' Union: Tackling the disability disparity

In late 2020 we identified that many students with additional disability support needs were not declaring these to the University. UCLan Students' Union’s social media campaign aimed to normalise the fact that many students needed support for hidden and visible disabilities, and helped students to see their disability in a different light.

As a result, 111 students referred themselves for support that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. At Net Natives, we know that students like to see themselves reflected on campus, in advertising and in branding. And the UCLan Students' Union managed to create a community for those seeking extra help in this way. 

Shortlisted for Best Campaign Supporting Diversity

The Union, Manchester Metropolitan University

Championing BAME Ambassadors, The Union, a student-led scheme at Manchester Met, created the Big Change Project. The project involved senior leaders from faculties across the University and Students’ Union putting themselves forward for interviews with BAME Ambassadors - bringing in-depth conversations that often happen behind closed doors, out onto social media for our students to get involved in. These are open, honest and insightful conversations with departments across the University holding themselves accountable for what they can do to improve the quality of BAME student educational experiences and committing to making a positive change for the future.


Harvey Mudd College

FAST is an annual event campaign that Harvey Mudd College puts on in order to directly improve access for underrepresented groups to STEM including women, underrepresented minorities, students from low income or rural backgrounds, students with disabilities and students who are first-generation to college. FAST aims to actively assist with continuing these trends in promoting diversity at the college and in the wider STEM field, thus creating experts that thrive globally on teams that benefit from the efficiency, innovation and success that distinguishes diversity-minded thinking.


Blackpool Sixth

This year, Blackpool Sixth’s Show Your Pride day went viral with a social media takeover and a bespoke Pride webpage, showcasing high profile LGBT+ celebrities and people in the public eye. The college received video messages of support from the Blackpool Pride committee and LGBT+ authors, who have previously supported the physical event, which were shared across IGTV, Facebook and YouTube channel. It was a fun and informative approach that gave people a way to access information, get involved, and also support friends.

Shortlist for Best Campaign Promoting International Study 

City, University of London: Unlocking the city 

The #KeyToCity campaign combined tech with novelty keys to get students, both close and far from home, excited about the year ahead. 

With a digital key and a QR code, students were given a novel way to connect to each other and their new home. As we know, connection is key, especially amid the pandemic, and City supported this campaign with email communications, encouraging students to share their experiences on social media, uniting students and keeping their spirits high as they returned to campus after a challenging year. 


University of Portsmouth Global: Handing the mic to International Student Ambassadors 

The University of Portsmouth Global spoke to their international students, and were told these students wanted to hear more from the international student voice. So, UoP Global took a leap of faith and handed over the keys to their Instagram account to International Students Ambassadors for story takeovers. This gave the Ambassadors the platform and opportunity to speak student-to-student and share their own, unfiltered view into the world of an international student at the University of Portsmouth, and not just what the Marketing team wanted to share. 


Coventry University: Meet the student Q&As

Coventry University frequently uses Instagram and Stories to give different students a platform to answer questions from their audience. As an international student looking to study in the UK, it can be a complicated and confusing process. Connecting prospective students with current Coventry students who have lived experience of this journey is a great way to make the university more accessible. #AskPedro was a great Instagram takeover. Pedro, a student from the faculty of Business and Law, covered some FAQs from those looking to study as an international student. 

Shortlist for Best Use of Instagram

Nottingham Trent University: Celebrating every missed celebration with Class 2020

Nottingham Trent University threw a week-long ceremony celebrating their Class of 2020. As most, if not all of the events, celebrations and ceremonies had been cancelled throughout the year, the university wanted to put on something special. From BTS graduate takeovers and emotional story snaps, to on-trend reels and the Drake “certified” emojis, the week and subsequent coverage was a masterclass in capturing community and connection, even when a pandemic gets in the way.


University of Aberdeen: A lesson in connection 

Data shows students often know little about Aberdeen and the surrounding area, but once exposed to it they feel connected and excited by the prospect. Aberdeen’s ‘In Focus’ Instagram campaign is a long-term project celebrating the people, places, culture and history of North-East Scotland through a kaleidoscope of imagery generated by both those living in the area and those passing through.


Manchester Metropolitan University: A Glimpse inside the campus walls

Manchester Metropolitan University used Reels to connect students with life at university through their ‘A Glimpse of Life at Manchester Met’ campaign. These campus snapshots provide useful insights into how to get around and what there is to offer. As well as a platform to celebrate success, such as dissertation hand-ins and the amazing things their students and alumni have achieved, that can be found around campus. Their account is more than just sharing information; it’s a way for students to connect with their surroundings, their peers, and more importantly their own student journey.

Congratulations to all our finalists this year, and we’ll be looking forward to seeing who the student panel voted as the winners during our live ceremony at Think Student Live. If you would like to virtually join the celebrations, you can still grab a ticket here.

Article by

Nicola Jones

Senior Marketing Manager