UNIVERSITIES must change the way they communicate with ‘Generation Z’ students if they are to prosper, an expert says - after new figures revealed the number of applications from state-school educated pupils has fallen for the first time in eight years.
Official data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency found the number of university entrants from grammar and comprehensive schools in 2017/18 decreased, ending an upward trend that began in 2010.
Now Nik Higgins, an expert in working with young people from widening participation backgrounds, has warned institutions must move with the times and ‘speak the language of students’ to help reverse this decline.
“Traditionally, universities have used open days, prospectuses and school visits to attract students,” he said.
“But these methods are no longer having the same effect on recruitment they once did. Communication has moved on and so must universities.
“Relying on formal communication methods can act as a barrier to higher education for pupils from disadvantaged areas in particular.
“It’s not about changing the message, it’s about delivering that message in a more student friendly way so no-one is excluded by background.”
The new figures show that overall, 89.8 per cent of youngsters starting university last year came from state schools.
This was lower than the 90 per cent recorded during the previous 12 months - and is the first decrease since 2010/11.
The metric could be seen as a worrying indicator for many institutions as student recruitment teams compete for declining numbers of students to fill courses.
The percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds - or ‘low participation neighbourhoods’ - was 11.6 per cent last year.
This represents a slight uptake on the 10.9 per cent secured in 2012 though it is not keeping pace with the ambitions of universities UK-wide.
Nik, 28, helped found pioneering tech firm The Access Platform - which allows universities to reach out to prospective applicants via their existing student body - with colleagues George Olesen and Dominic O’Neill in 2017.
Educated at a state school in Manchester, he went on to study at the University of Oxford, the institution found to have the lowest intake of undergraduates from non-fee paying schools last year, at just 58 per cent.
Now also an advisor to educational and social impact charities, Nik added: “Any decline in state-school students going to university is a worrying trend that needs to be addressed.
“Young people use technology to communicate. It’s second nature to them, so giving them the opportunity to reach out to their future university in this way increases trust, makes higher education seem more accessible and engages them more than any prospectus or open day can or will.”