This Results Day, the BBC, Guardian and the like celebrated the news that 55 teenagers from Brampton Manor Academy, East London got the grades they needed for Oxbridge: seven more places than Eton. As the majority of Brampton Manor are from ethnic minority backgrounds, in receipt of free school meals (FSMs), or will be the first in their family to attend university, many read this story as a sign of changing tides. But was it instead notable for its singularity?

The A-level attainment gap between rich and poor students, Black pupils and those from other ethnic groups has in reality widened in England this year. ​

students taking exams

Analysis also saw white students 1.5% more likely to be awarded an A or above than Black students, raising concerns of bias in the novel means of teaching assessments in the pandemic. Free school meals and a background of high deprivation were also indicators of potential bias. ​

In simple terms, whether exams will be reintroduced next year or not, Black students, other ethnic minorities and those from deprived backgrounds still face significant disadvantages and barriers to education, specifically higher education. Institutions need to step up and do more to close the gap and offer true equality of opportunity to those students who may otherwise be left behind.

Here are some ways you can strive to widen participation at your institution through your advertising and marketing campaigns: 

Use POLAR 4 postcode targeting

Invest in awareness raising advertising in your target POLAR postcodes, as well as new geographical areas with campaigns specifically targeting people who might not think your institution is for them (or even be aware of it). ​

But using data to understand your target audience and where they fit on the POLAR 4 scale, will allow you to refine marketing strategies, and improve tactical marketing techniques.

For example, if the majority of your students are from quintile five (the most advantaged), they may be swayed by information on your ‘premium’ student accommodation. Whereas students from quintile one (the most disadvantaged) may be put off by these messages as they may feel that your student halls are above their budget and going to your institution is therefore unattainable. 

It is really important that you address the needs and barriers of each audience that you are trying to connect with, beyond your more traditional student.

Make your events and outreach efforts accessible to everyone

students attending an open day

For many prospective students, Open Days, insight evenings and other outreach events are what spark that dream alive and solidify their decision making. But once you factor in travel costs and logistics, some universities and opportunities can be simply taken off the table for many low-income families. This widens the gap. ​

Some universities across the country now offer travel reimbursements which are available for attendees that have travelled over a certain distance from their homes. Going a step further, some institutions now also provide prospective students and parents free accommodation for those long travel days that need an overnight stay. And students and their families really value this. Working with one institution on their summer Open Day campaign, we found that the ads that publicised this helping hand were the best performing ads of the entire campaign. 

Make sure the path to your institution is accessible for every type of student. 

Connect prospective students with inspiring student ambassadors 

We know it’s human nature to connect with those like-minded to us. We’re inspired and moved by those who have walked the same walks as us. And this also applies to students. ​

group of students in a classroom

If you want to showcase that your institution can be home for so many different individuals, let your diverse student body do the talking. When you’re advertising in those POLAR postcodes for example, drop the organisational brand, and inspire with your ambassadors. ​

Our friends at LSBU tell stories of the everyday student as they strive to connect with their diverse target audience. Sharing their ‘no barriers to brilliance’ messaging on both their alumni and Open Day campaigns, it tells prospective students that their doors are open. To anyone. This goes a long way towards ensuring that those from ethnic minorities, low-income backgrounds and other disadvantaged groups don’t feel that university isn’t within their reach and that it’s a place where they will fit in and feel at home.

If you would like to find out more about how we can work together to close your institution’s participation gap, get in touch with our marketing specialists today for your 2022 strategy.

Article by

Eleana Davidson Native Author

Eleana Davidson

Senior Marketing Executive