Will students be returning to University in September?
The latest insight from Students’ Unions

Last month we brought to you key insights from Students Unions across many Universities in the UK, detailing their plans for the new academic year and how the University landscape is looking for brands with students as their key demographic. 

As lockdown measures begin to be released and guidance from the government continues to be updated, we wanted to find out if Universities have updated their plans and if they are any clearer on what the University sphere will look like. The insight gained is pivotal for brands to enable them to plan, strategise and act accordingly. 

We sent our survey to 120 Universities across the UK, requesting updated feedback on their plans and intentions for the new academic year. We received an increase in responses with 43 Universities completing the survey within the time period. 

In our last survey, 77% of Universities stated that they are looking to open as normal for the start of the new term. This has decreased to 58%, with 65% of Universities not having a clear understanding of exactly when physical lectures will resume, with virtual learning continuing to be at the forefront of academic plans. 

There is a clear movement with Universities now reporting that they will be opening their doors to students come September. Latest announcements include the University of Nottingham and Swansea University. This trend is starting to build up a strong and viable market to promote to students, once again at a key brand interaction period of the student journey.

National press have been reporting of Universities moving to virtual lectures, indicating a sense that these universities would be closed to physical interaction. However this is misleading as these Universities are only planning on converting their lectures (mass gatherings indoors) to virtual. Cambridge University is a prime example of this. On the 19th May, The BBC reported with the headline ‘Cambridge University: All lectures to be online-only until summer of 2021’. The next day,  the Senior Pro Vice Chancellor added a statement to help clarify the situation and not to cause confusion: “The University and the Colleges will welcome as many students as possible to Cambridge for the start of the next academic year, guided always by advice from Public Health England” and continued to state “Colleges are planning to offer a wide range of activities, and will work hard to build up community life, even in the midst of social distancing.”. There will still be physical face to face teaching in small groups, campuses will be open and students will  be returning to University.

Continuing with the survey, the good news is that 67% of Universities stated that they are looking to host their Freshers Fair events as normal for the new academic year, which is consistent with the feedback from our previous survey. Again whilst this information is opinion based and subject to change, this is positive news for brands with students as a core sector. It is becoming more likely that physical Freshers Fairs WILL still take place, it is simply a case of when, with 48% of Universities still not having a clear picture of when they are likely to host the event. Based on our insight, trends and if the hold on the pandemic continues to improve, the number of Freshers Fairs held under social distancing measures at the start of the academic year will continue to increase as more Students’ Unions confirm event dates. Outdoor activities are seen as a safer environment, therefore this links to the fact more Students’ Unions will be hosting their fairs outdoors like the well established Bristol Freshers Fair in Clifton.

A significant 84% of Universities stated that they are looking to run a virtual Freshers Fair. It is likely that this will be as an addition to the physical Freshers Fair, not as an alternative. 39% of Universities are looking to host a virtual fair in September to try to ensure their new influx students can still enjoy the “Freshers” experience, until they are able to hold a physical fair at a later date. For brands this means they are faced with a unique opportunity to engage with students at two Freshers events, which is an opportunity not to be missed. Again 42% of Universities do not have a clear understanding of exactly when they will be hosting the virtual Freshers fairs, but hope this will become clearer over the coming weeks. With this in mind, brands should be considering how they can capitalise on both events and start planning how they can engage with students across the two Freshers platforms that will be available. 

Information continues to develop in regards to halls of residence and how the facilitation of students into their new halls will work. 35% of Students’ Unions believe that students will be returning to halls of residence in September, whilst 55% are unsure when this will take place. Accommodation providers across the UK are gearing for business as normal, with increased social distancing and hygiene measures in place for the arrival of the new students. As the government continues to release lockdown measures, over the next few weeks we would expect to see a much clearer understanding. 

Of course students are still accessible through digital means. 58% of Universities confirmed that they will start to or are still offering solus email sends in the new academic year. Email marketing is more powerful than ever, with the Digital Marketing Association suggesting that 66% of customers purchase as a result of an email marketing message. Our own research has shown that youth regularly check both their personal and university email accounts, with 90% of youth checking their personal email accounts daily whilst a similarly impressive 76% check their university email accounts daily. Email marketing remains an essential channel in any student marketing strategy, however with limited availability brands need to act fast to secure this highly coveted media. 

If you would like to talk about marketing to students now or ahead of the new academic year, please get in touch.

List of the University Students’ Unions who completed the survey:

St Mary's University
The Students' Union at UWE
LSE Students Union
Durham Students' Union
Imperial College Union
University of Leicester Students' Union
Bucks Students' Union
Union of Brunel Students
Leeds Beckett Students' Union
Reading SU
Middlesex University
Greenwich Students' Union
Worcester Students Union
Aberystwyth University Students' Union
Manchester SU
Edinburgh Napier Students' Association
Queen Mary Students' Union
University of Southampton Student Union
London Metropolitan University
Worcester Students' Union
Nottingham Trent Students Union
Cardiff Met SU
University of Northumbria
Liverpool Guild of Students
University of Nottingham Students' Union
Teesside University Students' Union
SU Network - Kent Union
SU Network - Surrey SU
SU Network - Cambridge SU
SU Network - GK Unions
SU Network - Beds SU
SU Network - Oxford SU
University of Birmingham Guild of Students
Sheffield Students' Union
Anglia Ruskin University's SU
Newcastle University Students' Union
Lincoln Students' Union
University of Bath
Bath Spa University