Earlier this year, we reported on the changes in the PG Home market and how the combined effects of the pandemic and the buoyant job marketplace had brought about swinging trends in interest and enrolment numbers. Another 6 months on, and we are continuing to try and understand what is going on in this ever changing, volatile market. We now have the cost-of-living crisis to contend with and its impact can already be seen. The Home UK market is definitely struggling, and international students seem to now be the focus for recruitment and one solution for getting bums on seats!
It’s a similar story across most universities, not just our clients and this has been confirmed through various sources such as HE Portals. Many universities are saying UK numbers are down and it looks like international numbers are making up for any shortfall. Although actual numbers can take up to 12 months to come through, the below chart from HESA demonstrates the sizeable increase in international students over recent years (UG & PG).
PG has traditionally been more heavily weighted towards international students (especially non-EU in recent years) as shown in the below chart from HESA. This is data from 2020/21 however. The current picture will be even more skewed, but it won’t be until January when the latest statistics are published. We already know that some counties, such as China, India & Nigeria are seeing astonishing, consistent growth YoY.
HESA: HE Study enrolments by level of study, mode of study and domicile
According to HE Portals, interest to site still exists and traffic is certainly not down, it’s just likely to be coming from a wider source.
The rising cost of living, no doubt will be playing a part in UK numbers. This is especially the case for London universities. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and many UK students simply will not be able to afford to study in such an expensive city. It will be harder than ever to justify the financial commitment. It may be that some students will be delaying their PG study to ride out the possibility of a recession and look to 2024 and beyond. Others will simply have found suitable employment which might have looked less likely a few years ago.
Student geography is also changing in terms of where domestic students come from in the UK. The mobility for UK students is shrinking even more which is linked to increasing costs. Staying at home can help with that and since the pandemic, online learning is a new norm. Big cities have historically been a big attraction for students but being in a bustling metropolis may not be that appealing when things live Covid are so easily transferred. A campus that has some open space or a location that is a little more remote may be now more appealing.
However, these trends are not across the board. According to FindAMasters, although PGT is struggling, PGR is more robust and unaffected so far. Interest in blended learning is also growing slightly at the expense of on-campus (for PGT) and online (for PGR). During the pandemic we saw a massive increase in demand for online courses, over 100% increase in traffic (Prospects) and an explosion of new courses available. Things have returned to some sort of normal now but for PG students, flexibility, and the option of a blended approach which they can possibly fit around other elements in their life such as a job or family remain important.
Research patterns for PG students also support a notion (IDP) that research lasts later in the cycle but definitely peaks in Oct-Jan and then declines with a big dip from May. This is of course not conclusive but can help to determine budgets and weightings to campaigns or timings for Open Days as an example.
We are also seeing a move away from less obvious vocational subjects such as arts and humanities which again may be due to the pandemic and increasing course costs. Students still follow their passions, but they are very concerned about their employability after graduation and how they will pay student debts off. The Early Careers Study by Prospects can be found here: https://publications.prospects.ac.uk/early-careers-survey-2022/
Here at Hunterlodge, we have already seen client budgets shifting from Home to International to support PG recruitment. However, it’s not just the target market that needs to flex, it’s equally important that messaging addresses the current concerns and barriers to PG study. We also need to understand the nuances between different countries and their motivations to study. Although market conditions are significant to decision making, communications can still make an impact, whether that be now or in a few years’ time. After all, we know that these trends are always cyclical.
If you want to discuss your PG marketing plans or want a fresh angle, then please get in touch for an informal chat at firstname.lastname@example.org