To understand how Covid-19 is impacting students’ views, actions and mental health, we need to talk to them. We then need to use this insight to inform how we best engage and reassure this audience. 

Natives conducted research with students to try to understand how they are currently feeling and what they need to see from their universities/colleges/schools and the government during these uncertain times. (You can read the whole report here)

From this, we know that students are concerned about their education (66% think COVID-19 will negatively affect it). This coupled with current university students already feeling disgruntled about the recent strikes, prospective students having their exams cancelled and results day potentially being moved to July means this is the time to invest in your institution being seen and heard.

Therefore we know that this, more than ever, is a time when students need to be reassured and need to be aware of what your university is doing and why you are the right fit for them. 

To ensure that you continue to be agile to the needs of prospective and current students we recommend regularly engaging and talking to students, including: 

Adapting to student needs and plans

Understand what students currently need and what their plans are to effectively use your marketing, comms and messaging to better engage. Find out:

  • Students’ current situations and plans - has the COVID-19 crisis changed either of these? 

  • Do students think their predicted grades will be better than their actual - has this already influenced their ideas on where they want to go?

  • Are unconditional offers really in the best interest of students? (Our friends at Student Hut have found that this is not what they want.) 

  • What do students need from universities right now?

  • Are students going to have a gap year?

  • What messages do students need/how should you be talking to students?

  • Are you offering reassurance to your students that they won't be negatively penalised for having to use predicted grades?

  • What impact the situation has had on Year 12 students? This will inform your plans for the next two recruitment cycles. 

Mental health and the wellbeing of your students should be at the forefront of your mind as well. From our research we’ve found that students are incredibly concerned about the impact coronavirus will have on their mental health. Companies such as Fika and Perlego, offering mental wellbeing exercises and guidance, and access to thousands of educational books and textbooks could be a well-needed lifeline for students. You can find out more here

Getting the most out of virtual open days

Understand what students want to see when they visit your institution online, and how they want virtual open days to be structured, so that you can engage them and move them towards signing up for, or attending a virtual open day  Find out things such as:

  • What is most important to students at a traditional, or virtual, open day?

  • What are students looking for? One-on-one time with students/tutors, campus tours or details of accommodation?

  • Is not being able to go to an actual open day going to change their mind about where they want to apply?

Talking to international students

Understand the impact on international students - what do they now want from your institution in the midst of the current crisis? Find out:

  • Has the COVID-19 crisis changed international students’ plans? 

  • Are students looking to defer a year and attend your institution in 2021?

  • Overall, is global education less inviting?

  • How important are online learning options to international students?

With the global situation changing daily, it’s never been more important to stay ahead of changing student trends and attitudes to inform your marketing and comms. With the introduction of caps, you won't be able to recruit the number of students you had originally planned, so it is going to be even more difficult and competitive to attract the right students for your institution. In the foreseeable future, it’s probable that fewer international students will be studying abroad, so it’s critical you’re asking yourself these questions to make sure that you engage, attract and secure those who are still in the market for university come September. 

And you can achieve this with research and insight. Why? Because everything we thought we knew no longer matters. Everything has changed. And if your idea of research used to be only face-to-face, it’s time to adapt. At Natives, we already run many of our research projects remotely and see great interaction and responses from our participants. Whether this is through online focus groups, interviews over the phone or through surveys. Just make sure to use software that is appropriate for the situation and if you are unsure, ask the experts.

Conducting research online has its positives too. Running focus groups online can be more accessible and inclusive as you aren't asking people to take time out of their day to attend. This means you can get a wider geographical and demographic split of participants as well. Not to mention, people are often more comfortable sharing their views from behind a screen. Now is the time to find out what your students are really looking to you for, and what you can do to support them. 

Get in touch if you’d like to speak to our experts about using research and insight to inform how best to engage and reassure your student audience. 

Article by

Katherine Nicholls

Director of Research