Clearing 2019 - what has 2018 taught us?


17 Jan 2019

Clearing 2019 - what has 2018 taught us?

2018 delivered a record number of students being accepted through Clearing. With the number of applications from 18 year olds in the UK in decline, the competition has been fiercer than ever. With 6 of the 24 Russell Group universities having entered Clearing 2018, students have more choice and, overall, a higher chance of being accepted than they ever had before. This year is shaping to be even tougher. The current recruitment cycle is showing further signs of decline in both applicants and applications. The Student Room is predicting 2019 to be another record year, with a further dip in the number of UK 18 year olds and concerns over Brexit internationally, there is likely to be intense competition for students.

The awareness of Clearing has been on the up year on year and unsurprisingly, Direct Clearing was one of the two routes which witnessed an increase in applicants (6%) in 2018. Interestingly, Extra suffered the most considerable losses in terms of numbers (- 21%) with a high proportion of applicants being placed through their firm and insurance choices. However, it seems even unconditional offers are losing their shine. TSR Community Team noticed the relative rise of students wanting to get out of their unconditional offers as they went through the run-up to Results Day last year.

The one thing that is certain is the significant power shift that puts students right in the centre of any marketing strategy. With trends being reversed, routes to acceptance in decline and decision-making pushed back till the very last minute, a student centred approach is the only way forward. This means Universities need to stay on their toes throughout the year and start engaging with potential Clearing students as early as possible, reflecting a diversity of profiles of applicants choosing various routes to university in their messaging and methodology. It’s worth noting, HE doesn’t need to be just a young people’s game, and last year saw mature student numbers surprisingly increasing. Similar trends prevailed for the EU and non-EU recruitment (against all odds), calling for agility and versatility in strategies and campaigns.

A successful clearing campaign will have many components, but looking at last year, four common denominators emerge:  social platforms, technology, personalisation and somehow controversial - campaign tone/jargon.

Social Media will be an essential part of any Clearing campaign this year and it’s worth noting they are being increasingly used as a conversion tool or a way to make an application or simply to create a buzz around institutions. Live streaming was especially prominent last year which lends itself wonderfully to the madness of A-level Results Day.

The use of new technology, chatbots and AIs have increasingly gained significance. Given how comfortable the young generation is dealing with matters online, they can only boost institutional appeal.

Personalisation is definitely not going anywhere this year. Personalised gifs were a trick du jour of Clearing 2018. Personalised congratulation videos, however time and resource consuming, also proved to be a big hit with students (and HEI awards judging panels for that matter!).

Campaign tone and use of jargon, although a divisive issue last year, made Clearing so much more exciting, with universities pushing the boundaries further with friendly Twitter spats, break up and Love Island inspired campaigns. Some would argue it’s one way to stand out from the crowd - so we might have some more daring campaigns this year. I, for one, look forward to seeing those. It’s safe to say that the Clearing period will be as busy as ever, but provides the exciting opportunity for a University to really show its character.