Exclusive insights from Higher Expectations and implications for marketing & communications

by William Annandale, Quadrant Consultants and James MacGregor, YouthSight

“GuildHE students are independent, single minded and focused.”

Higher Expectations is an annual research survey, conducted by YouthSight amongst undergraduates in their first year. It covers a wide variety of topics related to the influences on students and their decision making regarding higher education (HE), and their initial experience at university. Many individual institutions purchase and use the data to understand the perspectives of their first year students versus others; the data had never before been configured and analysed at a university group level.

“We had been discussing with Quadrant how the HE sector could benefit more from Higher Expectations, and approached GuildHE first with the idea of comparing GuildHE institution students with students at groups such as University Alliance, Million + and The Russell Group. It was not just a snapshot either, as the data was analysed back to 2006, so we could show trends over time”. – James MacGregor, YouthSight

This produced some interesting results. In terms of external influences when students were considering HE, it was clear that GuildHE students were less likely than most to look at league tables and they were also less likely to ‘consult’ with family and friends, particularly in the most recent year (2014). Personal contact, for instance with Student Ambassadors, was more important to these students.

This appreciation of personal contact was reinforced by the application experience being more important for GuildHE students than for other groupings – ‘Seemed interested in me during the application’ and ‘Their dealings with you overall’ were rated more highly; suggesting that GuildHE students place greater importance on being treated well during their enquiry and application journeys.

The course content and structure were important for all students but significantly more for GuildHE (71% versus 65% total sample saying ‘very important’ in 2014), and this was backed up by high levels of agreement to ‘Course offered something very specific that I wanted to study’. Looking back to their decision making, the GuildHE students rated their universities more highly on the course suitability and the appropriateness of teaching/learning methods.

Overall, in comparison with other university groupings, our analysis suggested certain characteristics of the GuildHE student in their approach to, and interest in, higher education; summarised as independent, single minded and focused and as:

More likely to:•   Want personal contact, i.e. Student Ambassadors•   Search for a specific course and choose a university for that reason•   Explore assessment/teaching methods and be influenced by good teaching•   Be influenced by the application process and communications

•   Rate their university experience to date as excellent

•   Have had their course expectations met or exceeded

Less likely to:•      Search for information online•      Look at League Tables•      Be influenced by others•      Be concerned about the perceived ‘prestige’ of an institution

•      Consider social life as a priority

•      Seriously have regretted their choice of university

Interestingly, although employability is important to them for the future, it was not necessarily related to earning potential; ambitious but not overly materialistic would seem to be the case for many.

We would suggest overall that the immediate implications of the data analysis are for student recruitment and marketing collateral, for instance comparatively more attention and investment in the following areas:

  • Student communication during the application process
  • As much personal contact as possible at Open Days, events etc.
  • Emphasis on easy access to, and navigation through, course information; both on the website and in printed material
  • Provision of information about teaching/learning methods and assessment processes
  • Use of ‘testimonials’ and video clips featuring newly arrived students, to help demonstrate the quality of the student experience
  • Emphasis on the student ‘journey’, from the learning experience through to employment opportunities (including work experience, placement, internships etc.)

More broadly, these insights may prompt consideration of GuildHE institutions’ proposition and positioning; what should we be communicating that will help attract and convert our target students vs other institutions they may be considering or have offers from?

Our definition of proposition and positioning is straightforward:

Proposition: ‘What can you (institution x) do for me (target market)?
Positioning: ‘What is different (or distinct) about you (institution x)?


“Too often, organisations develop propositions that are ‘inside:out’, focusing on their features and what they believe they have to offer, rather than understanding what their target market needs are and focusing on the benefits they can bring. These insights may help GuildHE institutions think from the ‘outside:in’ and it’s certainly worth them  reviewing their proposition and positioning regularly, especially at a time of change and opportunity.” – William Annandale, Quadrant.


James MacGregor – YouthSight
Tel: 020 7374 0997
Email: james@youthsight.com


William Annandale – Quadrant Consultants
Tel: 020 7240 7200
Email: william.annandale@qcl.co.uk