Coronavirus has changed what young people want from universities

New research, by The Student Room and TSR Insight, exclusively reveals what young people need from universities, following the impact of coronavirus on their education and immediate prospects for their future and higher education.

Key insights revealed

Among the key insights, our research revealed that young people are feeling very uncertain and are looking for clear answers from universities:

“There is a lot of uncertainty right now and I feel like my firm university isn’t communicating to us”

Strategic focus

The research also reveals what young people need to know, to make informed decisions for 2020 and 2021 university entry, making this useful for universities as they develop their plans for student recruitment.

In addition, the large sample size (almost 3000 respondents), specific target audience (including Year 13, and hard to reach Year 12), and in-depth strategic analysis ensure the research and associated reports are really valuable to the sector – we don’t just give findings and percentages, we provide insight into specific communications actions you can take now. For example, the reports reveal:

‘Have Year 13s changed their firm choice universities?’

‘Are they staying local or deferring entry?’

Student anxiety

From our own pre-lockdown research, we knew that young people were already experiencing ‘decision overload’ about their life choices even before coronavirus hit: which university, which course, where to live, careers, relationships – all these choices already felt urgent, important and with such a significant impact on their longer-term future.  

Now young people have high anxiety about how coronavirus will impact their immediate future and choices, and they want answers from the government, their schools, and the universities they have applied to 

We understand that young people don’t know how they are going to feel as they approach results, or what the landscape might be like for them, but the reports reveal: 

  • What they do and don’t know and how they’re feeling
  • The information they want to hear from universities right now
  • How existing communications might need to be reframed
  • The urgency in terms of university communications with them

For future research, we will also include their thoughts about digital delivery, the impact on things like onboarding, and how this is likely to differ for 2020 and potentially for 2021. 

Focussed on the needs of universities

In preparation for this research, we spoke to our clients in HE to find out how we could help them support their current and prospective students. The clear message was that they wanted to know how to adapt to the changing context quickly, as Julie Vincent, Insight Director, explains: 

“We knew our clients needed timely insight, and quickly. Several of our team have worked in senior insight positions at universities, and we talked to our colleagues at The Student Room and a range of clients about the best and most valuable questions to ask. Importantly, the insight from our student community informed not only what we asked, but also how we asked it. Our Sector Report includes analysis by profile factors including tariff level, highlighting some real differences in levels of confidence and plans for the future. Respondents were clear in their open comments, as well as in the data, about the clarity they need now, for example:

Information on how offers are going to change to reflect exam cancellations- for example how flexible are certain universities/courses going to be? Will the requirements drop? If we resit in September then will we lose our offers?”

(Respondent to the Navigating Changing Options SurveyMarch Wave, 2020)

Young people have so many questions, and the usual sources of advice don’t seem to have all of the answers yet. Clear, approachable, and helpful university communications are required.  

We wanted to help young people, by helping universities. Providing real insight into what young people want now, including how they want to be communicated withby whom and how often, the answers they seek, and the reassurance they need. Our reports have been designed for just this purpose. Revealing what prospective students think and feel about going to university in 2020 and 2021, based on both data and qualitative open-ended comments which are supplied as part of the institutional data reports.