All of us working to market UK Higher Education should guard against complacency – despite this year’s rise in international applicant numbers

Post by Kristine Murray, CIM HE MIG International representative

As someone who makes a living promoting the benefits of studying in the UK, I’m delighted that the latest UCAS statistics show a significant rise in the number of international applicants to our unis and colleges.

It’s especially encouraging given that the final figures for 2012 showed a fall in the number of EU students accepting places at UK universities and colleges, with non-EU student numbers growing very little.

Considering that the complete 2012 numbers and the latest applicant numbers to the 15 January deadline this year seem to tell different stories, what insights can marketers gain into the state of international recruitment?

With all the factors affecting UK international applicants such as UKBA requirements, the challenges faced by London Met , increased competition from other countries, more and diverse TNE provision and the changed fee structure for Home/EU students, it’s not a shock that applicantand acceptance figures  in 2012 have seen a decline or plateau both for EU and International students.

The fall in acceptances shows that while students may have been applying in healthy numbers a significant proportion opted not to take up their places place – potentially studying elsewhere,locally or simply dissuaded by the new UK visa regulations.  This is especially unwelcome news for institutions recruiting to post-graduate courses, because these students often start as undergrads.

Some interesting results come from the countries that have traditionally provided the largest numbers of students to UK HEIs.  Some changes are not too surprising – for example, looking at China, British Council forecasting models predicted a few years ago that there would be a plateau in Chinese applicants.  What is more concerning were the (somewhat) unexpected decreases – for example, in the number of students applying from India. In this case there was a decrease of 9.6% in applicants accepting their UK UG place. A key market for UK HE and in terms of progression to PG courses, the decline is initially concerning.

However, with the release of 15 January deadline statistics, there are some encouraging ‘green shoots’ of hope for the 2013 cycle – an increase in both EU (+4.9%) and International (+9.6%) applicants (compared to the same point last year).

There have been increases – with only one exception – across the top ten countries – some quite significant (e.g. Malaysia +24.8%, Italy +22.3% and the USA +14.3%).  What really stands out is India (+19.3%) in the number 11 spot – although we should wait for the acceptance numbers before confirming the recovery. Nevertheless, this is welcome news illustrating that despite all of the external pressures on UK HE – students still appear to be keen to come study here.

Top ten countries (non UK) by the January 15 deadline for the 2013 cycle:




Percent change









Hong Kong
















Cyprus (Not otherwise specified)












United States of America




PLUS:        11. India – 2013 – 2,610, 2012 – 2,188 (+19.3 percent)

Source:  UCAS Statistics

So what does this mean for marketers?

1 – We must continue to work together across the sector to maintain the perception and brand of UK plc. In the light of increased competition from the US, Australia, Canada and some European countries and pressure other external factors, the numbers of students actually coming to the UK and progressing through UK education may continue to be affected.  Watch this space for further 2013 stats …

2 – We must focus on the RACE approach to convert international and EU students – but not stopping when they turn up at registration.  We must ensure that throughout their time at our institutions, they are engaged, involved and provided with the total student experience that will see them progress into PG, become active alumni, and become formal or informal ambassadors.  This will help shape the UK brand and support students’ choosing the UK over other educational and country options.

3 – Sophisticated and differentiated marketing is a must.  Generic international marketing strategies will no longer cut it in established and sensitive markets such as India. In 2012, applicants from India responded by choosing to study elsewhere following changed UK visa requirements, including post-study work options.  In short, targeted, meaningful campaigns by market (meaning region, language, country or drilled down to city/region) are more vital than ever

Final thoughts

Although there is a work to be done by the sector in addressing perceptions and preventing further decreases in students accepting places, the UK is still a very strong brand with a lot to offer in the competitive global context.

History, diversity, quality assurance, and a simple centralised admissions service (UCAS) are all key points that we can use to market UK HE together.  Although 2013 application figures look positive, UK plc must work toward turning these applications into conversions.

We only need to take a walk around our campuses and famous towns and cities to see the positive cultural, social and – yes – financial impact that comes from having international students in the UK.

Back to Basics – Top Tips to share with school/college advisers you work with

Kristine Murray, CIM HE MIG International Representative
Steve Matthews, UCAS Marketing Account Manager

At UCAS, we recently completed some market research with applicants and pre-applicants aged 11+ to inform our future marketing and communications activities.  Some of the research findings weren’t too surprising – we marketers tend to have a hunch about our customers – but it’s always important to (regularly) confirm these hunches with customers themselves!

Following this research, we put together a top five list of tips for school and college advisers to help them in their communications with young people.  We’ve reproduced them below in case you would like to pass them on to the school/college advisers you work with.  Although these tips may be obvious, there’s nothing wrong with being reminded of the basics!

1. Don’t try too hard

Our research found that young people do not like websites that try too hard to be ‘cool’ or speak their language.  They expect a well organised, professional website with appropriate navigation and search functionality so they can easily find the information they need.  The colours and images used on the site are important, too, so don’t use any just old 1990’s style clipart graphics.

2. Video (especially YouTube) is highly preferred

Video is an engaging way to convey information to young people directly and quickly. They already use it as a learning tool and it is a welcome relief from reading.  Could you use video in your school?

3. Texting can get their attention

Our research with applicants revealed that more than four fifths would not have wanted UCAS to communicate with them in any other way if they could only choose one channel.  So perhaps text is a channel you might consider for grabbing your students attention!

4. Less is more

When your students or their parents read your emails, website and newsletters, many will scan rather than completely read. You should write with this in mind. Your messages should be concise, broken into sections, and include sub-headings, lots of bullet points, lists and calls-to-action.

5. Choose your channels carefully

It’s tempting to start a Twitter feed or Facebook page because it seems that everyone else has one. However unless you are adding value by being in that space, don’t do it! Only start a new communication channel if you have a specific reason, have a plan for what you will use it for, and can spare the time to use it properly.

UCAS Media has launched its own blog covering a wide range of HE marketing topics you can find at

Student (Customer) Relationship Management in UK Business Schools

Victoria Robinson, CIM HE MIG PR representative

As Head of Marketing and Communications for the Association of Business Schools I was intrigued to find out more about how loyalty is encouraged (particularly in relation to undergraduates) and how business school marketers manage the student life cycle.

As we know the decision making process when it comes to higher education is complex – rankings, employability, fees, reputation, location, social media and peers all play a part – so what tools are business schools using to try to push students up the loyalty ladder to go onto further study with them, especially in such a crowded marketplace?

This was the basis for my research into whether business schools practice what they teach when it comes to marketing and CRM.

Deans of UK business schools and marketing managers are under increasing pressure to convert applications into enrolments and retain existing students but few seem to have fully embraced the notion of SRM in terms of systems. It is known that systems are expensive to install and can take up to two years before they are fully functional.

Marketers can use student relationship marketing techniques within higher education, as one strategy to try to recruit and retain satisfied students who will then be less likely to withdraw during the first year of study, which costs the university money and valuable effort, as well as potential loss of reputation and damage to the brand.

The way in which students expect to receive their information is changing, with the advent of Web 2.0 and multimedia devices. Business schools must be at the forefront of how information is sent, received and viewed. Students expect a lot more information twenty-four-seven and want to filter out the ‘noise’ from mass untargeted messages.

Higher education must practice what it teaches to its students and adopt strategies to better target its ‘customers’ with personalised and relevant information. It is clear that better use could be made of off the shelf systems and that many institutions are running tactical campaigns from disjointed databases which are not ideal. The benefits to both students and the business school are clear but adoption is slow with a few schools excelling and the others trailing behind. SRM/CRM is the hot topic in education and many seek this holy grail of student management. Students expect higher standards and as marketing puts the customer at the centre of everything we do

To read the abstract and findings *click here*

For a full copy of the dissertation or any further information please contact: Vicky Robinson

Follow us on Twitter @Londonabs

The UK University Twitter Influence Rankings

Niall Cook, Sociagility

Last year, we ranked the leading (1994 and Russell Group) universities in the UK on their Twitter influence, as measured by the Klout and PeerIndex indices.

There is much debate about the value of such measures. It may be just a coincidence, but favourability by those ranked towards each one generally seems to increase with a higher score! Our own view is that as long as they are viewed for what they are – just two examples of a wide range of different performance indicators – they may help motivate and focus the attention of those making the investment and policy decisions.

Of course, there are also limitations. First, they measure just one social media platform – which may or may not be representative of where a particular institution has chosen to focus its resources. Second, they try to measure influence, but not other important attributes like engagement, participation or trust.

It was these limitations, amongst other factors, that led us to develop PRINT™, our own social media measurement and benchmarking methodology that compares the relative performance of different organisations across multiple owned and shared media.

At the CIM HE MIG Annual Conference in March we’ll be announcing some research into the social media performance of the sector as a whole, but to whet your appetite here’s the latest Sociagility UK University Twitter Influence Ranking.

Key findings:

  • The 1994 Group University of York continues to lead the way in a top ten dominated by the Russell Group – the only other 1994 Group members to make it into the top ten are Queen Mary and UEA.
  • The biggest gainers are London School of Economics (up 20 places), Birkbeck College (up 13), Queen Mary and the University of Reading (both up 12).
  • The biggest fallers are Lancaster University (down 20 places), University of Exeter (down 17) and University of Bath (down 10).
  • There are no major changes at the bottom with University of Manchester, Newcastle University and London’s Institute of Education still taking the bottom three places.
Rank University Account



1 University of York @uniofyork



2 Edinburgh University @uniofedinburgh



3 Warwick University @warwickuni



4= University of Birmingham @unibirmingham



4= Cambridge University @cambridge_uni



6= London School of Economics @lsenews



6= Queen Mary University London @qmul



6= Sheffield University @sheffielduni



9 Oxford University @uniofoxford



10= Glasgow University @glasgowuni



10= University of Leeds @universityleeds



10= University of East Anglia @uniofeastanglia



13= University of Southampton @unisouthampton



13= University of Sussex @sussexuni



15 University of Leicester @uniofleicester



16 Nottingham University @uniofnottingham



17 Kings College London @kingscollegelon



18 University of Bath @uniofbath



19= Birkbeck College London @birkbecknews



19= University of Liverpool @livuni



19= Imperial College London @imperialcollege



22= University of Reading @unirdg_news



22= Goldsmiths College London @goldsmithsuol



22= University of St Andrews @univofstandrews



25 University of Essex @uni_of_essex



26 University of Surrey @uniofsurrey



27 University of Exeter @uniofexeter



28 School of Oriental and African Studies London @soasnewsroom



29= Durham University @durham_uni



29= Royal Holloway London @royalholloway



31 Bristol University @bristoluni



32 Cardiff University @cardiffuni



33 Loughborough University @lborouniversity



34 Lancaster University @lancasteruni



35 Queen’s University Belfast @queensubelfast



36 Institute of Education London @ioe_london



37 Newcastle University @newunipress



38 University of Manchester @admissionsuom



Notes to these rankings

  • Blue: Russell Group universities
  • Green: 1994 Group universities
  • Average: Mean of university’s Klout and PeerIndex scores
  • Change: Rise or fall in ranking since our last analysis on 24 October 2011
  • University College London appears to have opted out of Klout, so an average can no longer be calculated and they have been removed from the list (they previously ranked third)
  • On 26 October 2011 Klout announced a change in its algorithm which may have had an effect on the change in the rankings between 24 October 2011 and 17 January 2012

The take-away for every institution in the list is not so much where they rank, but how they fare against those other universities with whom they most regularly compete for international and domestic students, research funding and reputation. Then it’s a case of moving beyond single-channel, single-attribute measures to a more robust, multi-channel approach that provides the kind of insight they need to improve.

Client disclosure: In the period between the two rankings, Sociagility was advising the University of Reading on improving its social media profile and performance.

A blog about blogs

Kristine Murray, CIM HE MIG International representative

As the name suggests, this will be a blog about blogs.  With the UCAS January 15th deadline recently past, many hopeful students have been blogging about personal statements, completing applications, making choices and the overall stress associated with making major life decision. 

Beyond the UCAS process, it’s no secret that more and more students and potential students are using blogs to share their experiences at our universities and colleges and to describe their journey in getting there in the first place.  They are using blogs to promote themselves to a tough graduate job market, to share their work, interests, hobbies and academic observations and simply because blogging is fun! 

In higher education, there are two main types of blogs marketers can use-official and unofficial. 

Unofficial blogs written by potential and existing students can be used for market research, so that we can better understand our customers (we can’t forget students are customers!) and how we, in turn, can communicate with them.  I know I sometimes think I know my audiences but there’s nothing like a social media ‘slap in the face’ to remind me that I need to stay abreast of customer need.  In other words, keeping tabs on student blogs can help us better and constantly understand our customers.

To get an idea of the breadth and depth of unofficial blogs, here’s a few that make for good reading: 

The other type of blogs are those written in an ‘official’ capacity by existing students highlighted in marketing materials and on the websites of universities or colleges.  A simple Google search reveals a large number of institutions using student bloggers.  To list a few: 

At UCAS, we’ve considered using student bloggers for a while now and officially introduced our six bloggers at the end of 2011 on UCAS Connect (

 Here are a few tips we’ve already picked up:

  1.  Make sure you have Terms and Conditions as well as guidelines-these will provide the foundation of your initiative and make sure everyone’s on the same page.  
  2. Think of the variety/mix of individuals you want blogging for you-do you want your bloggers to reflect your current student body?  How many can you manage?
  3. Keep them engaged-Give them stuff to talk about such as launch dates for new videos, top questions coming through social media, etc.
  4. Start small and then expand-make sure you get it right at the beginning, sort out the tweaks, then expand. 
  5. Be ready for the next cohort-start thinking about natural end dates for your current bloggers and plan for the next group.  Make sure you are prepared for bloggers to potentially lose interest and have a backup plan.
  6. Say thank you-Didn’t our parents always teach us to say ‘thank you’?  It can be as simple as an email, regular prize draw or other token of thanks like an iTunes gift card but saying thank you keeps bloggers happy.
  7. Listen!-it sounds simple, but make sure you actually read the blogs your bloggers are reading.  They can provide insight into pain points, issues and what works.
  8. Share them-Do colleagues outside of marketing know and/or read the blogs?  At UCAS, we’ve signposted the blogs internally to much appreciation of colleagues outside marketing.  This helps staff away from the ‘front line’ to get a feel of our customers’ experiences.
  9. Think of other ways they can be used-I’ve arranged for our Hong Kong blogger, for example, to meet up with colleagues travelling there in February, to help on the stand and perhaps provide opportunities for PR. 
  10. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate-Once you’ve set up your initial bloggers, make sure you keep a list of what works and what you’d change next time around.  Just like other social media, blogs and their use in higher education are ever-evolving.Happy blogging!

The dawn of a new year is traditionally a time for reflection

Post by Martyn Spence, Vice Chair of the CIM HE MIG

Happy new year!

The dawn of a new year is traditionally a time for reflection. It is when we look back at what we did last year and generally resolve to do things better. It is also a good time to step back and think about the bigger picture especially during a time of radical change across the higher education sector.

Being based in Scotland I don’t have the big bang of tuition fees to deal with but of course we have our own issues including an openly interventionist government with very fixed views on funding for students and research. And the changes in the rest of the UK impact on our recruitment too, and for me at least create an interesting new ‘international’ market to consider south of the border.

And in a turbulent market we need to remember there are always significant opportunities as well as threats. The education media are already reporting challenges to the membership of traditional mission groups in an increasingly competitive world. And the divide between pre and post 1992 is becoming increasingly irrelevant as ‘modern’ universities outperform some ‘old’ institutions in the league tables. Certainly we are finding that with many students in our core markets born after 1992 they are more interested in graduate prospects and earnings than what year the institution was founded.

At times of such radical change it is important that we marketers retain a strategic focus and that is where reflection plays an important role. It’s very easy in a jittery market to make tactical promotional decisions that have long term negative impacts on your brand and your wider reputation. Certainly at my own institution ( we are planning to spend time early in the new year to look at the big picture, emerging markets and what that means for our future marketing strategy and portfolio.

Here are a few key things you might wish to reflect on in preparation for the challenges of 2012:

Market/competitor analysis – now might be a good time to reevaluate your position in the marketplace and be honest about your true competitor set (not the ‘aspirational’ competitor set sometimes identified by academic colleagues). And of course there may be new markets to exploit as well as old ones to defend!

Brand and reputation – how are perceptions shifting? Is there an opportunity to re-position or extend your brand to new markets and services? Can you build on your reputation and perhaps unlock new business, research or philanthropic revenue streams?

Portfolio review – in challenging times it might seem an easy option to weed out the deadwood but you need to consider the impact on your mission, reputation and future ambitions. Portfolio review should always be a strategic exercise and not seen as a quick fix to a difficult financial situation. On the positive side shifting markets might allow for new product development or the renewing and re-focusing of existing courses to better meet student needs.

Focusing your financial and staff resources – are you investing in past failures or new markets? Some honest reflection might help to re-align those budgets and staff to get more return on your investment.

Customer relations – are you maximising those customer interactions? Conversion from interest to a ‘sale’ and then repeat business is considered critical in the private sector to business success. It is worth reflecting on how activity might be planned and co-ordinate more effectively across your university to deliver more wins from existing customers.

And if you need to brush up your strategic thinking don’t forget you can access a wealth of information to support your reflection and planning on the CIM website.

Without a doubt 2012 will be an interesting year for all working in the HE sector and professional marketers should be well placed to respond to the opportunities and challenges and make a major contribution to the success of their institutions.

Good luck to you one and all!

Top 10 tips for producing web videos

Post by David Girling, Digital Marketing Manager, University of East Anglia

Picking up on Emma Leech’s blog from last week, I’d like to briefly consider 10 ways promotional videos can work harder for you in HE Marketing. The Noel Levitz 2011 E-Expectations survey interviewed 1,089 high school students and 517 parents across the USA. 55% of students and 43% of parents have watched videos on the sites of Universities they are considering.

Most interesting video subjects Students Parents
Student Life 48 31
Academic programmes 31 43
Area around campus 15 17
Accommodation 6 7

Here are my top 10 tips for producing better web videos.

  1. First and foremost define a video strategy. Who is the video for? What is it trying to achieve? What is the budget? Where is it going to be shown? Who’s going to manage it? How will you measure its success?
  2. Content is King. In order to produce videos that will work for your university, you need to know how video will work for your audience. A video for an Open Day attended by parents may require very different production values and narrative to general student life videos. There are many types of promotional videos: student testimonials, general overview, video prospectus, campus tours, lectures, talking heads, student generated content etc.
  3. Make sure your video portrays your brand’s tone of voice and is informed by overall corporate objectives. Why did Yale produce a 16 minute high production video parodying Glee? Why did Huddersfield make a video entitled ‘Aliens in the Hud’?
  4. Be inventive. There are thousands of videos promoting Universities. What makes your University, Course or Campus distinctive? How can you tell your story so that it stands out? Make sure your video is compelling, interesting, inspiring, entertaining, informative, educational or funny.
  5. Optimise your videos for search engines. Web video content plays an increasingly important role in search engine results. Videos from sites such as YouTube and Vimeo often appear on the first page of the search engine results page (SERPS). In addition Youtube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world. It is vital to employ useful metadata such as file names, titles, tags and descriptions to ensure your videos being found. Getting your videos to the top of search engines involves many variables such as number of views, number of comments, number of shares, ratings, back links etc. Also make sure you follow the conversation and respond to comments.
  6. Ensure you establish video guidelines which will help with quality control and consistency. Commission an agency to produce standard assets such as title bars, intro and outros. Establish a roster of videographers! The University of Texas have great guidelines
  7. “I want to make a viral video!” – Viral videos can quickly get your product and brand out to a wide audience, but there is also practically no guaranteed way to “make” a video viral. I planned a video for the MSc Brand Leadership Course at the University of East Anglia. The video has had 30,000 views in 3 months and received comments from all over the world, which I consider a viral success. However it took months to research, storyboard, produce and then to seed. The seeding strategy was implemented over a planned period, using existing networks and joining new relevant networks. We targeted specific LinkedIn groups, emailed current staff and students, shared via Twitter and Facebook and so on. We contacted a social media “guru” who has over 200,000 followers and they kindly tweeted and wrote a small blog post on their site. The success of the video required a lot more effort than just sticking it up on Facebook. Now, when you type in ‘Branding’ into the YouTube search bar, the video is number one. It receives approximately 200-300 views a day. Self-seeding so to speak.

  8. Plan, plan, plan. A storyboard however basic will save you time and money. Videographers will be charging by the hour. Make sure you are not lugging heavy equipment from one part of the campus to the opposite end. You are paying for the time – use it wisely.
  9. Consider where you want your videos to be viewed. There are many online video platforms (OVP) to choose from. YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world, BUT it can’t be viewed in some countries such as China. There’s a great website, videcompare, for comparing the pros and cons of OVPs. Albany University  in New York have a great web page showcasing their videos utilising an OVP.
  10. Lastly, measure your success and learn from your mistakes. Most OVPs come with great analytics tools. YouTube statistics include number of views, demographics of viewers, geographical data etc. You can download stats into spreadsheets if you want to analyse the data further. It’s important to view these stats, but you must relate these back to your objectives in order to measure ROI.
  11. There’s loads more that needs to be considered when making video. Choosing the right person to interview, lighting, camera angles, video formats – etc etc etc. But hopefully the Top 10 tips above have given you some food for thought.


10 ways to make your budget work harder

Post by Emma Leech, Chair of the CIM HE MIG

In the HE marketing world, 2012 looks set to be a game changer.  We’re all working longer, harder, and faster but whilst competition is increasing, many budgets are shrinking.

So much for the festive good cheer!  If austerity is the new black, what can we do to improve impact and stretch our resources? Over the years I’ve worked with budgets of all shapes and sizes and on the flip side, the great thing about shoestring budgets is that they prompt you to think harder and more creatively. Kathryn Jones’s blog some great benchmarks using CIM data whilst a recent article in The Guardian by Quadrant offers a different set of figures (so have a peak and see how you measure up).

Here are some suggestions to set the ball rolling – add your own and let’s see if we can make it a hundred…

1.  Have a big spring clean and unpick what you’ve spent, where, and with whom over the previous twelve months. There are often savings to be made when you start looking at “sunk” costs that can be addressed by process changes (e.g. minimising design alterations by running publications workshops to bring non-marketing folk up to speed on how best to pull together materials) and re-tendering or streamlining your supplier base can create significant economies of scale.

2.  Make sure that you look at what you’re subscribing to and ensure it’s working for you. The devil is in the detail and you might find that you’re getting multiple copies of magazines, that you have “doubling up” on systems costs within the organisation or that things that were great a few years ago no longer have shelf life.

3. Paper costs – have a chat with your printers and see what’s new, what’s cost effective and ask for recommendations on pagination, sizes and options. It’s amazing what you can save by getting this sorted out and, of course, by…

4. …reducing the amount you print. Be harsh. Do you need it? Want it? Use it? How many copies? Can you do it better/more cost effectively online? Can you stop doing it or do it in a different way?

5. Postage. So many sunk costs, so much opportunity. The same goes for fulfilment, storage, delivery and related costs. There’s a lot of this work that is bread and butter and not very sexy – which is exactly why we do the same as we did last year but there’s cash to be saved if you’re prepared to look hard.

6. Stretch your team – and if you’re not a manager, just stretch yourself. It’s a good way to learn, a great way to save external spend and everyone benefits. In my team we’ve found a brilliant photographer (who happens to be an SEO person by day) and we’ve saved money on video, web and design by using skills we had in the team.

7. Integrate your channels. Take the time to connect up your social media activity, encourage people to share resources and save time and money re-inventing the wheel by making text, images and online collateral work for both PR and marketing. Multi-purpose materials don’t need to be diluted projects. One carefully crafted project brief is better (and cheaper) than two overlapping but unfocussed projects.

8. Use selective DIY learning to stretch the training budget. CIM HE MIG conference aside, there are loads of online free resources you can use to learn new skills and make sure you share presentation slides, reports and other materials within your team and beyond to maximise learning benefits. This year, I plan to learn something new from each member of my team – from how to use Prezzi to PR pitches via Twitter. Tap into local knowledge, build team spirit and engagement and make your cash go further.

9. Plan. Better planning equals better results, better ROI and more efficient budgeting.

10. Plan some more. Ok, cheating a little, but get others involved and work the angles. Can PR add value and reduce advertising spend; can you work some extra organic search magic and reduce your reliance on PPC? You can see the possibilities and if you can connect up outside areas (devolved School, Faculty or Project spend) you could all benefit.