UCAS Media Masterclass – January 2019
UCAS Media are running their usual series of masterclass events for those of us working in marketing, recruitment or admissions. They are a great opportunity to get insights into undergraduate market trends. Below are some of our reflections from the session we attended:
UCAS Cycle Changes
The review of 2018 applicant data clearly showed that some of the ‘traditional’ features of the UCAS cycle are almost redundant. This includes insurance offers and arguably, adjustment. Insurance acceptances fell by 8% last year because they just aren’t needed; record applicant numbers are being offered and accepted by their first choice university. And while some applicants still use the formal adjustment process, such are the opportunities available through Clearing that others prefer to play the open market instead.
Signs of More Change?
In recent years, the high tariff institutions have dominated the market, growing their student numbers by accepting applicants with lower grade profiles. This means they have taken applicants that would otherwise have gone to mid-tariff institutions who in turn have taken applicants that we would expect would go to low-tariff institutions. It is these lower-tariff universities that have therefore seen the biggest impact on student numbers as the 18-year old population declined.
In 2017 we saw that high-tariff institutions had stabilised their growth in acceptances, even though the medium-tariff ones continued to grow and low-tariff institutions saw large decreases. But by the end of the 2018 cycle, there was evidence that higher-tariff institutions were making fewer offers than previously and that the medium-tariff institutions had also reached their appetite to expand. Instead, the lower-tariff universities were finally starting to see some growth, even if much of this came at a late stage (e.g. through Clearing, DTC and late applications).
The population of 18-year olds will return to 2015 levels by 2024 and we also expect participation rates to continue to grow because of the ‘graduate mother’ effect (that an 18-year old is more likely to go to university if their mother is a graduate – and the number of female graduates with 18-year olds is set to increase steadily). Therefore, the savvy universities, whether they are high, medium or low-tariff, will be getting ready for this upturn now; focusing now on their subject portfolio, their market positioning, their brand and student experience.
The application cycle continues to evolve at a growing rate, and with the potential impacts of Brexit, this evolution is likely to continue for years to come. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Being aware of these changes can provide the base for a University to take advantage of the changes.