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Insights from the industry

Clearing: What Have we Learnt?

Clearing: What Have we Learnt?

Posted on August 21, 2018 by Daniel Farrell

It is important to highlight now more than ever just how essential clearing has become, and the antiquated image of clearing as the last resource for students with “lower grades than expected” just doesn’t fit anymore

More and more students are deciding to wait and go through clearing to make the big decision and approach universities once they have their results in hand. Students know that at that moment they are in total control. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t researched institutions previously, it means that universities are depending more and more in the clearing period to reach their student recruitment targets, and that students are basing their decision on how close they felt to universities throughout the process.

We still believe that it is not just about “the clearing period – campaign” it is about how close (and human) students feel to the university through the researching and consideration process. It is about what the institution will bring to their future and about the life experience that they will have in those 3 years of university. Open days, are still key to the students and even parent’s decisions.

For clearing this year there has been a 2.5 % fall of the 18-year-old population, which translates into 18,000 fewer people finishing secondary education, of which some 6,000 might have been expected to apply for university. (Source Higher education policy institute hepi). The good news to contrast the bad news is that there is a rise of school leavers going through higher education and a record number of international students from outside the EU have been accepted to UK institutions this year.

Clearing is also a route for students going through adjustment to climb to better universities when getting better grades than expected. Climbing to better universities is a trend that we have seen since the lift of the cap on student’s numbers controls in 2015 which has meant expansion for the most prestigious universities and has created an even more competitive HE student recruitment market.

What did we see campaign wise?

Clearing is a challenge for universities admissions and recruitment teams but it is also an opportunity for agencies to show their expertise and knowledge of the student recruitment market. This year the trend was for universities to put all the efforts together and work at a corporate -brand level more than at the subject specific level that we have seen in previous years.

Brand campaigns in general outperform course specific campaign, increasing the cost of the campaign as per the higher budgets seen at a brand level against the usual budgets at a course specific level. However, it is important to highlight that for those that decided to keep the campaigns at a course specific level also saw results.

Clearing advertisement campaigns have expanded, in the past, most of the efforts used to concentrate on and around results day. However, the rise in competition, translated into bigger efforts from universities to cover a longer period and to have a more structured campaign.

This year campaigns started much earlier than usual, with some landing pages going live mid-end of June to build brand awareness through to the the start of campaigns early -mid July. We saw a trend of clear pre-information campaigns with a change of a more direct call to action with the approach of results day.

From results day itself we gather that the main dominator was AdWords. From our years of experience of working on clearing campaigns, we are used to a far more equal balance between Facebook and AdWords activity. This year it switched more to AdWords.  Social media had a spike in the morning before the results were out and when results were first issued.

The key gamechanger or learning from this year is that the HE marketing is a very competitive market. Universities are keeping their advertisements on for distinct reasons, “high standard universities” to keep recruiting students even after hitting their targets, and “lower standard universities” to reach their student recruitment targets.

In general students have received better results than expected (more A’s) which has benefited “high standard universities” and has hit “lower standard universities” generating higher marketing efforts from both parties to communicate the opportunities available to potential students.

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