The Perception Problem - Why UK Universities need to reconnect with communities
by Steve Watkins
With costs continuing to rise and more alternative routes into work readily available, UK universities have to work harder than ever before to secure each annual in-charge of students.
Quite rightly, considering the sizeable investment, individuals (including mature students) are beginning to objectively question the expense of a degree versus the benefits it will give them when they emerge out of the other side of graduation.
Historically, universities have placed many UK towns and cities on the map, stirring a sense of local pride, providing a valuable boost to the economy and justifying/funding improved facilities for the local community. But research has shown that this message is getting lost amidst the perception that universities are increasingly driven by profit, rather than students’ best interests.
That is why universities should be looking to broaden their horizons through advertising, to re-educate, inform and shift these damaging perceptions into more positive ones. Online has long been a solid choice for university advertising as it offers the opportunity to be incredibly targeted, reaching the exact right age group at the crucial consideration time when they’re likely to be ordering various prospectuses and attending open days. But this approach is assuming that these individuals are already fairly convinced that higher education is the right path for them. In a recent study 46% believed that the cost outweighed the benefit, therefore we almost need to take a step back and revisit the education process first, before attempting to convert potential new students. 58% believed that universities do not equip graduates with the skills they need to become successful in the workplace. This view, if allowed to gain momentum could cause further damage to the next generation of potential applicants who would then be less likely to consider further study as a viable option.
Outdoor advertising allows you to reach a broad sub-section of a community, with a unified message that will be influential in altering mindsets and opinions. This would apply to both the potential influencers and those possible to influence in attending university. You can use a variety of messages which promote the employment benefits to individuals but also the benefits to the community, the increased footfall and opportunities for human connection. This allows a dual purpose to be served and for attitudes towards university study to be strengthened across the board. This would, in turn, halt the decline in negative attitudes towards universities in general and also decrease the workload in educating and on-boarding the younger generation (and the next wave of mature students) making Out of Home advertising a beneficial and sustainable long-term investment.
The consideration to include Out of Home as part of a wider advertising strategy doesn’t need to work in silo either; we’ve successfully implemented campaigns in the past that have allowed OOH and online to work together, creating powerful results (speak to us about our case studies for examples of this in action).
With the economic landscape remaining uncertain for the time being, it’s so important that we act now to change the perception problem facing our UK universities, rather than simply look to fulfil each round of admissions. With all the negative media coverage we are consuming at the moment, there is an incredible opportunity to alter the dialogue around the benefit of higher education, both to individuals, communities and the UK as a whole and reaffirm the value that our universities can provide for years to come.