What matters most when it comes to boosting a university’s reputation?
Keen to find out, we conducted two separate surveys – one last year, one this year – in partnership with market research agency YouGov. The results were remarkably consistent over the two years.
We’d therefore suggest that these are good indicators of what may turn students into promoters of their alma mater once they graduate. Since 49 per cent of students surveyed said that current and previous students influenced their choice of institution, this is clearly useful recruitment information.
The following are the top five factors that higher education students chose when asked what was most important to their overall experience at university:
- Ease of access to information online (86 per cent in 2015 and 84 per cent in 2016)
- Ease of access to support surrounding academic issues (79 per cent in both 2015 and 2016)
- Quality of communication in advance of course commencement (77 per cent in 2015 and 79 per cent in 2016)
- Quality of communication during the application process, and after the application is accepted (77 per cent in both 2015 and 2016)
- Quality of communication on arrival (76 per cent in 2015 and 75 per cent in 2016)
While access to information online and access to academic support are predictably the most influential variables, the other results show, perhaps surprisingly, that it’s the work that universities do in advance of undergraduates starting courses that has the biggest influence on overall perceptions of experience.
Survey respondents also voiced their opinions on university payments. The research showed that payment processes play a significant part in the student experience, and as such can influence institutional reputation.
When asked this year to choose their preferred method of payment for services and fees to a university, 76 per cent of respondents in both 2015 and 2016 said online (via web or mobile app).
In addition, the 2016 results revealed that 35 per cent of students would tell friends and family if they felt they had received an unsatisfactory or bad experience when making payments to their university. This is up from just over a quarter (28 per cent) in the previous year.
For a second year in a row, employment and earning prospects have proven more influential for students than university league table ranking when deciding which university to attend: 36 per cent chose employability as the most important factor, compared with 31 per cent who opted for league table ranking.
In fact, for the second year running, employability was pipped only by the institution’s reputation/standing and course reputation.
Particularly proactive institutions will anticipate the growing influence of employability prospects and payment accessibility. However given that, for the most part, the factors currently deemed most important to students do not appear to be changing significantly year-on-year, universities must act now to improve in these particular areas to ensure that their future graduates reflect positively on their experiences.
Holger Bollmann is director at WPM Education.