A different perspective on A level results day- The Black Friday of student recruitment?
On Friday 5 July, Clearing officially opened for the 2019 cycle. Last year, almost 67k students secured a place during Clearing, and a record 17.5k of those did it with their results in hand. Times are changing, students are taking control and managing their applications in a way that previously would have been unheard of. Quick decisions, intense activity, and university marketing budgets topping £3m makes Clearing a commitment comparable to that biggest of all retail periods – flooding the market with activity over a short period of time, demanding instant results.
Those universities who rightly see Clearing as a valid way to boost numbers will spend most of it on display. The giants of all platforms, Google and Facebook, are probably the biggest winners, with bidding wars and £80 CPC not unusual. That commercial and competitive approach is new and exciting for the sector – recruitment challenges, certainly in the short term, require it. Most, however, would agree that this figure at any other time of the year wouldn’t be entertained – but, the need for scale and speed also brings competitive behaviours. And with that comes the eye-watering prices.
But there’s another reason. As we edge closer to a sixth of all uni applicants coming through Clearing, we’re also seeing the biggest diversification of the cohort ever. In 2018, over 9k of those applicants who previously hadn’t applied were over the age of 21 – that’s compared to fewer than 6,000 in 2008. They’re not in school, possibly have other responsibilities, and marketers rightly know they still need to hear about the opportunities open to them through higher education – finding them during this hiatus of marketing recruitment via any other channel than display clearly isn’t an option.
But is now the time to think about how marketing spend could be better spent?
Every university is different, and there will be many whose budgets are smaller and recruitment more niche, who won’t need to wade into this foray. But for those who need it, they need to do so in a competitive and noisy market. The need to be heard comes at a cost, but planning ahead is still crucial. As the number of 18 year olds increases as we get closer to 2020, trends might change. But for now, getting the best bang for each and every buck is the priority.
Bringing together the perfect marriage of channel and data has to underpin everything – it’s not rocket science, but it’s easily forgotten when the pressure’s on. Bigger is not always better. During this Black Friday for higher education, it’s more important than ever that we should step back as a sector and ensure we’re being heard by the right people. Why? Because better decisions means greater retention.
Sarah Barr Miller is Head of Insights for UCAS Media