Thanks to our friends at Investis Digital for providing this guest blog.

Good news for universities in the United Kingdom: a record 311,000 U.K. 18-year-olds applied for fall 2021 admissions, as reported in The Guardian. UK universities are preparing for a return to face-to-face teaching, and students are expected to have full access to all campuses and facilities. At the same time, universities need to be prepared for a new educational experience that will reward adaptability and empathy.

A Record Number of Students Applying for University

The Guardian, citing data from the Ucas admissions service, said that “the highest ever number of students would be starting university or college courses in the autumn, with particularly high rates of applications coming from women and sixth-formers.” The record number represents a 10-percent increase over applications in 2020. The totals for 2021 climb to 682,000 when mature and international students are factored into the totals.

How Universities Can Prepare by Being Empathetic

Universities in the U.K. will need to exercise adaptability and empathy as they gear up for the autumn at a time when the world is recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic. Universities are recruiting a generation of students who have experienced the stress and living during a pandemic that has infected millions and killed 130,000 people in the UK. Clare Marchant, Ucas’s chief executive, told The Guardian, “Despite the best efforts of schools and colleges, the learning of students will have been affected to a greatly varying extent, and the mental health and wellbeing of many young people will have been impacted by the pandemic.”

At Investis Digital, we believe universities can and should demonstrate empathy in a number of ways, for instance:

  • Carefully managing website content and recruitment materials. University websites should be mindful to manage the tone of their websites, welcoming students back warmly while also making it easy for students to learn about mental health and wellness resources that the university offers.
  • Giving students a voice. A university’s website and social spaces are outstanding resources for students to share with each other their experiences learning at a university setting. Many universities publish student testimonials to recruit students. Consider sharing more of them throughout the year, especially to give students a chance to give updates on how they are transitioning to university life.
  • Be mindful of the many other ways to show empathy. Students’ values are being shaped by a stronger emphasis on social and racial justice, and they’re going to be actively looking for affirmation that a university’s values align with theirs.

How Universities Can Prepare by Being Adaptable with Virtual Learning

Universities are also operating at a time of profound change. For example, the pandemic cast a spotlight on the growing popularity of virtual learning. During the pandemic, virtual learning was mandatory for learning at all, and U.K. universities adapted. A recently published BBC article discussed the rise of online during and beyond the pandemic. The article shared several examples, including the case of an American student who is earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the University of London – from the comfort of his own home in New Jersey, at half the cost of a U.S. program.

It’s essential that universities adapt by incorporating more virtual learning options and managing in-person learning carefully. Many U.K. universities are already changing by scaling back large lecture options and continuing to provide virtual options, including the University of Manchester, which is actually going to remain online for the foreseeable future. Virtual learning had already been on the rise before the pandemic hit, which speaks to the enduring popularity of the format. And unfortunately, the reality of higher education right now is that the pandemic could experience a resurgence, forcing universities to return to virtual learning exclusively, too. Universities need to be more competitive by showcasing just how well developed their virtual learning programs are. They need to make sure they explain how they’re offering a broader complement of online. Those options might include:

  • Asynchronous online courses. Universities offer students content and assignments with a deadline for completion – but don’t require students to interact in real time. For instance, faculty might post recorded webinars that students may view on their own time. In addition, universities might offer students discussion boards and wikis to complement the assignment.
  • Synchronous Online Courses. An instructor and all students have a live interaction. A platform such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams might be appropriate for managing meetings on a small scale. But a virtual events platform such as Investis Digital Live makes it possible to manage larger meetings in a scalable, secure way. In addition, collaboration tools such as Mural make it possible for students to interact in more visually interesting ways.
  • Hybrid Courses. These incorporate both offline and online instruction. For instance, students might meet in-person on small groups (which might be ideal for hands-on training for trade schools) supplemented with computer-based instruction. Many traditional on-campus institutions of higher education are considering a hybrid approach that makes it possible for students to experience a campus environment in a controlled, safe environment.

Now is the time to rethink and reimagine how to interact with students online in more dynamic and exciting ways. Show potential students what’s possible – on website, social channels, and everywhere else people interact with a university.

Contact Investis Digital

The recently published Investis Digital white paper “10 Strategies to Increase Student Enrollment in Higher Education for 2021: UK Edition” offers tips for higher education institutions to attract and retain students through digital in a post-pandemic world. The white paper, based on our extensive client work, is available hereContact us to learn how we can help you attract and retain students.


Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.