What marketing messages will universities want to hear in 2020/21?

The coronavirus pandemic forced universities to make some rapid changes to the way they work, including closing their campuses, shifting to online teaching and finding alternative ways to assess their students’ learning.

These institutions now face a whole new set of pressures as they tackle the year ahead.

The logistics of keeping students safe, engaged and learning are only part of the story, and universities will welcome suppliers which can help them with these immediate challenges.

However, to survive and thrive, universities need to take the long view of their roles in a post-pandemic world, and they’ll be particularly receptive to messaging which reflects an understanding of the wider issues in higher education.

That’s why it’s important for businesses in higher education to know what the key trends are in the sector so they can hit the right note with their communications.

So what do you need to consider in your higher education PR planning?

  1. The blended learning model

Many universities were already providing some form of online learning offering prior to the pandemic, with lecture recordings, established virtual learning environments and high-quality multimedia content. But during lockdown, institutions had to shift everything online, with students joining tutorials on Zoom and taking open book exams at the kitchen table.

Now the emphasis is on blended learning with a mix of online and face-to-face delivery.

This appears to be the model most students are expecting as the academic year progresses. A National Union of Students survey found that almost half of students (47%) expected to be taught online in the first term of the coming academic year, but in term two 59% of students expected to be taught via blended learning.

The hybrid model may see students watching live-streamed or recorded lectures from home or within bubbles in their halls of residence, but attending smaller seminars, tutorials and laboratory sessions in person with physical distancing in place.

Universities will need support as they embed this blended learning approach more deeply into the curriculum, and if your solutions can help, it’s important to make this a core element of your messaging.

  1. A tough financial climate

Covid-19 is hitting higher education finances hard. With the pandemic touching every corner of the globe, and travel restrictions changing day by day, it’s harder for students to commit to overseas study. The impact of this is that institutions will be welcoming fewer international students this year.

Many universities are also facing lockdown-related losses of income from the reduced uptake of student accommodation and conference and catering operations.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies states that the total size of the losses faced by the sector is highly uncertain, but could be anywhere between £3 billion and £19 billion – that’s between 7.5% and nearly half of the sector’s overall income in one year.

This could leave some universities struggling to survive.

To be able to continue to deliver high quality education and research, institutions will have difficult financial decisions to make, and brands which understand these challenges and help to address them will be welcomed.

  1. A different student experience

Starting university in 2020/21 will be like never before, with virtual freshers’ weeks, restricted campus facilities and physically distanced social bubbles.

Confronted with this prospect, it’s hardly surprising many students considered deferring their university place for a year. Back in May, a poll by the Sutton Trust found that 19% of students had changed their mind about university attendance this autumn or had yet to decide.

However, the alternative may not be an option either, as the pandemic has put paid to some of the traditional gap year pursuits. Travel is largely off the cards, and jobs in hospitality or retail are hard to come by with so many experienced employees currently out of work and looking for roles.

In this uncertain climate, universities will need to find ways to make the student experience a positive one.

This is the message behind the Universities UK campaign #2020MADEUS which aims to give this year’s school leavers a message of confidence and hope as they continue with their plans to start university courses this autumn.

Institutions may be looking for additional resources to help students make the most of the social aspect of university, by helping students build new friendships despite the restrictions, and focusing on mental health and wellbeing.

Brands targeting the sector will hit the mark if they factor these messages into their PR planning.

  1. Covid-19 and student retention

One of key risks for universities in the wake of Covid-19 is a negative impact on student retention and progression.

Many of the 2020 cohort which universities will be welcoming this autumn have not been at school or college since March and may have missed out on some of the essential learning that would have given them a head start in their higher education studies.

And for the first time ever, students starting their university course will not have taken A levels or any other sixth form qualifications. Instead their grades are based on predicted grades.

This could mean more first year students losing confidence and struggling to get a foothold on their new course in those crucial early weeks and months.

Similarly, current students may find the lack of face-to-face interaction with lecturers and fellow students affects their academic performance.

A blog from the Higher Education Policy Institute suggests that, “With a prolonged absence from more traditional support, many students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are likely to experience a dent in confidence and disconnection from learning, despite the best intentions of universities. Some will leave their studies.”

Universities may be looking for tools and technology that can help them identify students in difficulty, so they can provide targeted support and prevent them from dropping out of their course.

It’s a pivotal moment for universities, and the steps they take now to alleviate the impact of Covid-19 will shape their future. Any PR plan needs to take account of opportunities for universities to focus on the positives as the world emerges from the crisis.

Campaigns and communications which demonstrate a deeper understanding of the new higher education landscape stand the highest chance of success in these extraordinary times.

 

To find out more, why not read our guide to good PR planning.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

 

 

What marketing messages will teachers want to hear in September 2020?

Over the summer holidays, many in the education sector use the relative quiet to plan their marketing and PR campaigns for the year ahead so they can hit the ground running come September.

But this year, things are a little more complicated than before.

Whereas previously, planning often involved updating your messaging to make it more relevant to current policies or trends, this year, a wholescale rethink may be required.

So much has altered in education, that what previously might have headed up the to do list for a teacher or school leader may no longer make it into the top 10 things they need to think about right now.

Covid-19 has changed everything. So what does that mean for your PR planning?

The more things change the more they stay the same

To develop a good PR or marketing campaign in any sector, you need to tap into your audience’s hopes and dreams. Or calm their worst nightmares. This has not changed. It’s just that you need to take a fresh look at what a teacher or school leader’s priorities are as they return to school in September 2020.

With this in mind, we thought it would be helpful to pull together some of the latest research to unpick what teachers will need help with this Autumn. If your organisation can genuinely demonstrate that you are responding to teachers’ current problems, your communications and campaigns will stand out above the rest.

What’s on teachers’ minds

So what are teachers thinking about at the moment?

  • Closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers

The Education Endowment Foundation recently examined the existing research available on the impact of lockdown on the attainment gap. The conclusion was that the impact of lockdown would reverse any progress made in this area in the last decade, with estimates indicating the gap would widen by 38%.

No one will be more acutely aware of this than the head that knows how many children are in receipt of pupil premium in their school or the teacher who has struggled unsuccessfully to get a response from the parents of the child who has only submitted a couple of items of work for marking since lockdown began.

These children will be front and foremost in the minds of educators as September nears. Brands that are sympathetic to this challenge or that prove they can help reengage learners will fare better than those that can’t.

  • Developing and delivering a catch-up curriculum

Teachers will be facing the prospect of working out how much learning pupils have missed during lockdown, and the need for a catch-up curriculum could be causing some sleepless nights.

According to Teacher Tapp, the teacher survey app, some year groups and subjects have fared worse than others during the pandemic. 63% of Key Stage 2 teachers say they have only delivered half or less than half of the intended curriculum, and for Key Stage 1 and Early Years, the figure is 57%.

Helping children catch up on essential primary learning will be a priority.

For secondary schools, art, design and technology and PE teachers were most likely to say that pupils missed out on at least half of the curriculum they should have received. And only 11% of English teachers say they had delivered the entire curriculum during lockdown.

Schools will be looking for support during this catch-up phase, and if your business can help teachers focus on key learning priorities to make up for lost time, make sure that’s reflected in your messaging.

  • Pupil mental health

The emotional impact of living through Covid-19 cannot be underestimated, and schools will be concerned about their pupils’ state of mind at the start of term. Children may have felt the impact of strained household finances, family illness or bereavement.

Bright Minds carried out a survey of young people with a history of mental health difficulties which found that 80% of children agreed the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse, and 41% said it was much worse.

Younger children are also affected. Parents and carers of children aged between four and 10 years of age reported that over a one-month period in lockdown, they saw increases in their child’s emotional difficulties, according to a University of Oxford study.

With pupil wellbeing at the top of the agenda, schools may be adapting their timetable, staffing and classroom space to provide additional emotional support for individuals and small groups. Headteachers and SENCos may be keen to access resources which strengthen a school’s approach to pastoral care in the coming months, and they are likely to welcome brands which understand the importance of good mental health.

  • Teacher mental health

Teacher Tapp regularly measures the anxiety levels of educators. Following the announcement that schools should start planning to re-open for select primary school year groups from the start of June, 16% of state school teachers and 40% of headteachers reported feeling highly anxious.

September 2020 could see a similar pattern of anxiety levels among the teaching profession.

Teaching staff may be concerned about the extent of the work ahead of them in tackling learning losses, they could also be anxious about the safety of their work environment and the changes imposed on them by social distancing measures. Of course, many staff members are carrying the burden of family worries too.

Schools are likely to be focusing on teacher wellbeing by renewing policies and procedures and providing additional training for staff. Organisations which understand the challenges and can offer flexible CPD options could be well placed to help schools support their teams.

  • Maintaining safe distances while learning

Each new school year brings something of the unknown – there are new cohorts, colleagues and timetables to get used to. This year, there’s the added task of keeping everyone as safe as possible from Covid-19 infection – which is no small challenge.

Depending on the age of the children, teachers may find themselves reinforcing the social distancing message endlessly throughout the day, ensuring equipment is sanitised and teaching children in their bubbles.

Schools are expecting to welcome all children back in September, although this could change, of course, and the government advice is that “while coronavirus (COVID-19) remains in the community, this means making judgments at a school level about how to balance minimising any risks from coronavirus by maximising control measures with providing a full educational experience for children and young people.”

This may involve rearranging classrooms, removing assembly from the school day and staggering start and finishing times. School suppliers should consider how their solutions can help schools as they go through this period of change.

It’s likely that school leaders and teachers will spend this summer planning for the unpredictable as nobody knows exactly what September has in store. But by tuning in to teachers’ thinking, education companies can ensure their messaging hits the mark.

The best PR and marketing campaigns will do what they’ve always done – understand teachers’ challenges and find ways to help.

 

To find out more about planning your education PR campaign, you might like to read our PR Planning blog. 

Photo by nappy from Pexels

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