Research has shown that the introduction of higher tuition fees has resulted in a consumer culture in Higher Education. Students’ expectations are increasing and universities and colleges must respond with an outstanding student experience if they want to maintain student statisfaction.
What can marketing teams do to facilitate student satisfaction and meet the needs of their consumers?
1. University experience – expectation and reality
In the student academic experience survey 2016 (link) students were asked whether academic experience lived up to their expectations, and for three-quarters of students the experience has been better than expected in at least some ways. Unsurprisingly the number of timetabled sessions with teaching staff (ie contact time) is a major driver in driving perceptions of value for money, thereby impacting on student satisfaction.
This insight highlights the difference between university style self-directed study and the coached, directed study students are used to at school or college.
Coming from the guided world of college or school it may well appear that their university course has fewer contact hours than expected, and that it is less organised (or less structured) than their previous academic experience. That is not to say that there is necessarily anything wrong with the way the university is delivering it – it is purely a miss-match between the students’ previous experience and the university set up.
University marketing departments need to ensure that contact hours and modes of delivery are clearly explained in course literature, and that the difference to school is highlighted. Clear information will enable students to make that transition from the structured school environment to the university experience.
2. Perception of value for money
There has been a clear increase in the percentage of students who thought that their courses represented poor value for money compared with students who had enrolled at university when the lower fees were applicable.
It is the responsibility of organisations to ensure that they provide and demonstrate value in their interactions with students. This should result in students understanding and appreciating the wealth of knowledge and support universities can offer.
The Generation Y perception is that information is freely available online, which presents the knowledge providers at universities with a challenge to demonstrate the enhanced value of course content. For instance, students need to understand that the lecture notes added to their VLE were created by their learned professor based on years of experience, and are therefore more valuable than information they can access via Google or Wikipedia.
Otherwise students might wonder what the value of going to university is at all, if all information is available via the Internet anyway.
Universities need to convey to students that there is added value from physically attending a lecture, perhaps through additional content or sharing of ideas that they wouldn’t get through reading the lecture notes later. Without explicitly explaining this to students we can’t expect them to ‘get it’ as it differs so much from their earlier educational experiences.
3. The importance of student communications
Communications with students whilst they are at university also play an essential role in conveying value. If the organisation does not highlight it, how will students know about the extensive investments in campus facilities that are taking place for their benefit? Tell them what is happening and how it will benefit them personally whilst they are at your university.
HOW you communicate is as important as WHAT you communicate. Sending too many emails becomes counterproductive, and other channels such as posters or social media have their own pros and cons. Each has its place for different types of messages, and there are few hard-and-fast rules. However, a clearly thought out comms plan is essential if you want students to understand the value that is all around them.
I’ve heard students in focus groups saying they would have liked to have known about a particular investment, even though the internal university department believed it had been communicated. The lesson to learn from that is that broadcasting is very different to communicating. To be an effective communicator the message needs to have been heard and understood.
Student satisfaction matters
The sector needs to accept that students now see themselves as customers paying a high fee and expect to see value in return. Value, in terms of knowledge, experience and investment are all around them whilst at university, so it is our role as communicators to make that value more obvious to them.
Also published on Medium.