Why universities need to differentiate through experience

For some time, the UK’s HE sector has recognised it needs to transform. Covid-19 has simply been the catalyst to accelerate known trends and set new expectations for education.

We engaged with over 1,000 UK undergraduates and 500 pre-university 16–18-year-olds between December 2020 – January 2021 to understand how studying under repeated lockdowns and restrictions has changed perceptions and/or expectations of the university offer and consider what the implications for universities planning for the future might be.

There were three key takeaways from our research:

  1. Student satisfaction levels are on the decline
  2. Blended learning is here to stay
  3. University is still very much an option

Student satisfaction levels are on the decline

On entering 2021, there is evidence that suggests student satisfaction levels are on the decline.

"Nothing has changed between lockdowns. Everything offered is still the same."
Second year undergraduate, Creative Media

Post-Christmas, students’ satisfaction with their university’s handling of the crisis dipped from an already low 53% to 42%. This was due to a recognised lack of consistency across tools, support and teaching approaches.

Blended learning is here to stay

Despite remote learning having a number of drawbacks, when respondents reflected on the benefits, there was very much a consensus for a mix of in-person and virtual going forward. The switch to remote has provided flexibility to varying degrees but most notably for those, who have additional responsibilities such as a job or health and welfare needs.

"It’s a fantastic way of managing time. I can work three jobs."
Second year undergraduate, Architecture

The importance of this flexibility is something which led a third of our pre-university respondents to indicate they would consider an online only degree course because they can study at home whilst saving, have a job and manage their learning around their lifestyle.

University is still an option

When our pre-university cohort were asked whether they were still considering applying for university, regardless of Covid-19, 51% stated they were equally as likely/unlikely to consider studying a university degree.

However, 15% indicated they were now more likely to want to study a degree, the increased desire being primarily driven by the perception a university qualification would give you ‘competitive edge’.

Act now, differentiate through experience

Our research enabled us to get a sense of student views on the current situation and its impact on future choices. Whilst it indicated that despite the current restrictions the appeal of going to university isn’t going to subside anytime soon, it highlighted disquiet from the current student population about the quality of their university’s current offering.

If this discontentment isn’t remedied soon it has potential to influence those making their choices, at the very least this coming year. So, how can universities differentiate their offer and determine their value?

It is apparent in this new future that there is not going to be a one-size fits all solution, universities should consider themselves as service providers, creating consistent experiences to support a multitude of needs which better integrate the physical and digital worlds occupied by students. They need to learn from the commercial world, by taking an experience-led view of their offer and dedicate their efforts to developing strategies that support students from the moment they apply via UCAS through to graduation and beyond.

If you want to talk to us about designing an experience that’s right for your students – across the full university lifecycle - get in touch.

Related articles