Can ‘going digital’ help tackle the application decline?

By Gavin Newman, Director of Ivent

So the big news over the summer was that, according to the latest UCAS data, there are 25,000 fewer people applying for university this year, a 4% drop on last year’s figures.

Notable amongst the facts and stats was that the number of EU students planning to study in the UK has fallen by 5% – though I guess we can all be buoyed by the fact that international (outside the EU) students applying to study in the UK are increasing. 

Perhaps it’s not too surprising when you consider Brexit, increased fees and those changes to funding for certain courses. The challenge universities now face is how to attract applicants and as always, I believe digital communications will play a significant role. Universities are competing now more than ever for both homegrown and lucrative overseas applicants. A marketing strategy that doesn’t heavily feature digital comms, from interactive social media to whetting their appetite, with lecture examples and live Q&A with students for example, will surely miss the mark. 

Since cost is a factor in the decline, students want to be more assured they are making the right choices. However, since they do not necessarily have the time and money to attend open days at multiple universities, virtual open days are an obvious solution.

We already know there is increasing demand for distance learning from international students, particularly in emerging markets. But even UK-based students may look for an alternative way to access their course. Be it mature students, professionals in work who want to up-skill, and those younger students who cannot undertake the financial cost of living away from home to get their degree. 

Universities needn’t panic; going digital doesn’t mean an end to lectures and group tutorials. The right digital platform allows live streaming, video chat for both one-to-one and groups, and unlimited downloadable resources.

Let’s hope this applicant drop is a short-lived trend, but one thing is for sure, whether immediately or further down the line, universities need to buckle up for a ride on the digital highway and embrace a new approach, both for attracting students and to disseminate their academic programme. 


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