Higher Education trends to watch in 2019 | HE Research Snippet #35

HE Thinking | 16 Jan 2019


If you thought 2018 was an eventful year in Higher Education, it may prove to have been nothing more than a warm-up act. With review announcements, political upheavals, new qualifications and metrics, and students constantly in the headlines, just one thing is guaranteed in 2019: change.

In the spirit of helping you prepare for whatever happens, we’ve compiled (in no particular order) a list of trends and topics that are likely to fill your inbox.

1. Brexit brakes it

As you may have heard, the UK is (at the time of writing) leaving the EU on 29th March. The reputational impact of Brexit is already being felt on our universities’ ability to attract European students. When it comes to international students, reputation counts – more than half (51%) say it’s very important (compared to 38% of home students) in our undergraduate tracker. Protecting reputation and focusing on what else matters for global recruitment will be a major concern this year and YouthSight will keep updating our relevant research (broken down into EU and non-EU students).

This SnapMe video was produced shortly after the referendum result in 2016 and it still conveys the emotional shock of the day - shock that has largely gone un-resolved.

HubSpot Video


2. The teeth of TEF

In 2018, our undergraduate tracker revealed that over two-thirds of applicants hadn’t even heard of TEF, but we’re now starting to see awareness and attitudes shift in the focus groups we conduct.

Will the TEF become the shorthand for quality that the Office for Students hopes it will become?  Will there be more gold awards in 2019 as institutions become more familiar with the award criteria? We’ll track the trends and explore whether this year’s new subject-level TEF scores change the game.

3. What will Augar augur?

The review of post-18 education funding in England by Philip Augar is due to report in the new year (our intel suggests late February). The impact of fee changes (or even the threat/promise) is likely to send recruitment patterns across the UK into paroxysm.

Any change to fees at undergraduate level will have a knock-on effect on postgrads. Year-on-year we explore the willingness of students to pay for their education in our postgraduate tracker which includes a price sensitivity meter for more forensic analysis. What we’ve learnt from differential postgrad fees is that lifestage and course subject have a huge impact on willingness to pay PGT fees. We, like the rest of the sector, await to hear the outcome of the Augar review before making any more predictions.

4. Ready, steady, GO

Year-on-year our undergraduate tracker reveals the growing importance of proving employability (with 56% of students now rating it as a ‘very important’ factor when choosing their university). Meanwhile, the availability of graduate destination data is changing with the shift to the new Graduate Outcomes (GO) dataset. It’s political touchpaper, but will it influence student choice? Our HE Marcomms dashboard is packed with details showing when in the cycle applicants care about employability and what messages they respond to the most.

5. Applicants' unconditional love

Last year’s rise in unconditional offers sparked outcry from politicians as evidence shows they pull students into a foot-off-the-gas mentality, while many commentators have pointed out that, with squeezed demographics, such offers are the inevitable consequence of the government’s drive for a competitive market. Short-termist strategies for the sake of bums on seats are bad for brands, but there are arguments in favour of recruitment on the basis of students’ potential rather than their grades. Some unis have come up with interesting approaches and we‘ve been working with a number of institutions to explore the viability of unconditional offers and alternative incentive approaches.

6. Ranking the rankings 

Vice-chancellors love to boast about ranking success, but as TEF beds in, will students take notice of league tables? If league tables live on, are they to make better choices or justify those already made? Do we need a league table to rank the league tables applicants care about? And which league tables will matter to international students as new immigration policies bite? Our undergraduate dashboard can already answer many of these questions, but we’ll be reporting on the trends as the landscape changes throughout the year.

7. Disciplined brands

Looking at our undergraduate tracking study, it’s clear that the hopes and expectations of students vary greatly between subject areas. For instance, Law students rate the importance of reputation higher than other students, employability is rated highest by Business & Admin students, and the Open Day is rated most important by Creative Arts & Design students. With subject level TEF and the possibility of differential fees for different courses in England, it would make sense for marketing to get more granular. Instead of institutional brands, will departmental marketing grow and become more commonplace, and if so, what will those departmental messages be? 

8. Making welfare fare well 

In our State of the Youth Nation tracker, 37% of 16-24s in the UK agree or strongly agree they are concerned about their mental health – rising to 44% when we focus the data on students alone. In 2018, the issue of student well-being became a major story among journalists, wonks and politicians. For them, it’s a win-win bandwagon and it’s a topic that is likely to get more headlines in 2019, not least as universities face tough spending choices.

Will the implications of well-being on student recruitment be a lifeline for student support? What well-being responsibilities can/should a university take on and where should they draw the line? In any case, we should all care about supporting students to be happy and successful. Below is a short film of student voices, discussing their mental health. It’s a complex picture and one that we will continue to shine a light on via our work in 2019 (such as our undergraduate tracking study, qualitative research and SnapMe vox-pops).

HubSpot Video


9. Brief Encounters

The English Government has expressed support for more two-year accelerated degrees. Some institutions – particularly private providers – see them as a market niche, but, for now at least, are they largely a product that no one wants?

Some of our clients have already worked with us to investigate appeal for their accelerated degrees however they are still in the minority. We anticipate 2019 will see more traditional universities exploring their degree portfolios and the appropriateness of two-year degrees in a more consumer driven landscape.

Throughout 2019 we’ll be helping you stay ahead of these issues – and many more – and returning to the hottest topics within the sector. Do stay tuned.

As always, we're keen to share our exclusive research to provide a deeper understanding of shifting opinions and how they affect you within the sector. The data we’ve shared here draws from four of our membership online dashboard products, focusing on HE attraction (undergraduate success and postgraduate success), improving HE marcomms, and keeping universities plugged into youth marketing and trends. These dashboards are instantly available to help you benchmark, track and identify best in class.

Want to find out more about our dashboard membership products? Get in touch for a chat with our research team or to book a demo.  

Speak to our HE team


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