As the popularity of non-university routes surges, it’s essential to break free from the ordinary, embrace creativity, and make university accessible to more people. Drawing inspiration from the wisdom of Isobelle Panton, the Director of Student Recruitment and International at University Academy 92, we unravel the secrets to driving student recruitment and creating a transformative, inclusive, and inspiring academic journey.
Click here to listen to our podcast episode with Isobelle.
- 1. Embrace Diversity in Team Structure
A crucial aspect of building a high-performing student recruitment team is to ensure diversity in terms of roles and remits. Traditional roles that focus on raising awareness about universities and opportunities must work in synergy with community engagement teams. These teams should build trust by reaching out to youth zones, barber shops, football clubs, and other community spaces to help individuals realise their potential and break down stereotypes surrounding university education. Admissions teams should collaborate with other units to ensure that key focuses within their respective areas are aligned. Diverse teams with varied thoughts, experiences, and upbringings bring unique perspectives and ideas to the table, which can significantly contribute to success.
2. Foster a Sense of Belonging and Identity
One of the most significant factors in breaking stereotypes within education is to foster a sense of belonging and representation within the team. A diverse team that represents the community it aims to serve can inspire individuals in community groups or schools with a high majority of ethnic minorities. As the saying goes, ‘You can’t be who you can’t see.’ Therefore, recruiting teams that represent the desired community can help create a lasting impact and foster trust among prospective students.
3. Seek Talent Beyond Higher Education Backgrounds
To build a high-performing team, universities should consider hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds, including those with more commercial experience. Connecting commercial skill sets to altruistic end goals allows teams to remain focused, customer-centric, and creative. Drawing inspiration from successful commercial brands like Nike or Gymshark, universities can infuse fresh ideas into their marketing and recruitment strategies.
Take Nike for example, the global sportswear giant. Nike has been a trailblazer in celebrating diversity and empowerment. One of Nike’s iconic campaigns celebrated the remarkable journey of tennis legend Serena Williams. It brilliantly encapsulated the essence of grit and determination, striking a chord with audiences worldwide. The campaign showcased Williams’ unwavering commitment to excellence, her unyielding spirit in the face of adversity, and her unapologetic pursuit of greatness. This narrative not only celebrated her remarkable achievements on the tennis court but also conveyed a powerful message of empowerment and resilience.
In a society where the pursuit of success is often glamorised, showcasing the grit and determination of individuals who have weathered storms to achieve their dreams can be a refreshing and powerful message. It reflects authenticity and authenticity breeds trust and connection.
Similarly, universities can draw inspiration from Nike’s approach to storytelling. By showcasing the diverse achievements of their alumni, particularly those who overcame obstacles and shattered stereotypes, institutions can humanise their brand and create a sense of empowerment among prospective students. Sharing authentic success stories of students from different backgrounds and experiences fosters a deeper connection, demonstrating that the university is a place where dreams can be realised, regardless of one’s starting point.
And Gymshark — the rapidly growing fitness apparel brand. Gymshark made inclusivity a central tenet of its marketing strategy. In a memorable campaign, Gymshark introduced mannequins in their London flagship store, representing various body types and sizes. This approach challenged the traditional beauty standards prevalent in the fitness industry, inspiring individuals to embrace their bodies and pursue their fitness goals with confidence.
For universities, embracing inclusivity is equally vital in student recruitment. By highlighting the diverse student body and showcasing an inclusive and supportive campus environment, institutions can create a welcoming atmosphere for prospective students. Using imagery, videos, and testimonials that represent a wide range of ethnicities, cultures, and experiences, universities can illustrate their commitment to providing a nurturing and empowering environment for all students.
These examples offer valuable lessons for student recruitment strategies. By embracing authenticity, diversity, and empowerment, and creatively showcasing stories, universities can build a brand that resonates with potential applicants and creates a compelling narrative that showcases the transformative power of higher education. Just as these iconic brands have inspired millions, universities have the opportunity to inspire the next generation of leaders, innovators, and changemakers through their student recruitment endeavours.
4. Go Beyond Storytelling to Showcase a Commitment to Diversity
Whilst storytelling and marketing gestures can be powerful, to showcase a genuine commitment to diversity, universities must also move beyond it. Institutions should actively engage with the community, treating youth zones as key accounts and adapting outreach strategies to various spaces with different approaches. Activities like sports events, fundraisers, and authentic in-person conversations help build trust and demonstrate true dedication to creating a diverse and inclusive environment.
5. Define and Understand the Target Audience
Understanding the target audience is fundamental to successful student recruitment. Universities must invest time and effort in identifying their ideal students, both current and aspirational, and create personas that epitomise these individuals. This approach helps focus recruitment efforts, ensuring a hyper-personalised experience from acquisition to enrollment and beyond.
6. Invest in Systems and Infrastructure
For larger institutions, achieving hyper-personalization requires investment in systems and infrastructure that facilitate personalised interactions on a larger scale. Implementing new CRM systems, leveraging external companies, and using student ambassadors can help universities maintain personalised connections with a broader audience.
7. Challenge the Status Quo
High-performing teams challenge conventional thinking and embrace disruptive ideas. Encouraging a culture of curiosity and constantly asking “why” allows universities to innovate and create magical experiences for prospective students. Breaking free from the mindset of “that’s how we’ve always done things” opens doors to new possibilities and elevates student recruitment strategies.
8. Embrace Future Trends
To stay ahead in the student recruitment game, universities must embrace future trends. Collaborating with industry partners to highlight the value of a degree, leveraging social media for thought leadership, and building personal brands within higher education can set institutions apart. Authentic storytelling and brand-building around individuals create meaningful connections and foster community trust.
The Future of Student Recruitment
In this dynamic and ever-evolving journey of student recruitment, universities hold the power to shape a brighter future for education. By nurturing a high-performing team that embraces diversity, authenticity, and creativity, institutions can overcome barriers and forge a more inclusive path to education. Together, we can create an educational landscape that empowers minds, challenges the status quo, and opens doors for all, ensuring that the transformative power of higher education touches lives and creates a ripple effect of positive change in society.