‘Universities must take more commercial marketing approach’

Universities have been urged to take a more commercial approach to their marketing, advice that comes as a report finds applications to academic institutions are down despite an increase in recruitment marketing spend.

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The average marketing spend per university applicant his risen to £25, up from £19 in 2009, according to research from marketing recruiter EMR.

At the same time the number of applications has dropped 7.5 per cent, according to freedom of information requests submitted by EMR to a cross section of 20 UK universities. Figures released by UCAS in November found applications were down 8.4 per cent on the previous year.

Universities in England have been allowed by the UK Government to charge students up to £9,000 a year for their annual tuition fees since 2012, a move likely to deter many prospective students from making applications.

A separate poll of more than 100 marketers by EMR found that just 5 per cent feel universities are successful at marketing, with almost half (45 per cent) saying universities need to take a more commercial approach following the introduction of the higher tuition fee cap.

The trend also suggests advertising in isolation is not enough to attract students, with a quarter of the marketers polled suggesting existing reputation is more important than marketing. Oxford and Cambridge, for example, have no advertising budget but use their reputation for excellence as the basis of a more organic marketing approach on channels such as social media.

Currently university marketers tend to have a more general role rather than one defined by a marketing specialism – with four in five education marketers describing their role as general “marketing communications” compared with three in five (57 per cent) of marketers across other verticals.

Simon Bassett, EMR managing director, says: “Professional qualifications providers such as BPP or Kaplan have a very targeted approach to their marketing and universities can learn from this. A focus on hiring talented marketing staff from more commercial fields with greater specialisation would be a huge benefit to many more traditional education providers.”

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