Predicting Higher Education Trends in 2024

2023 is at an end, but the biggest trends in the HE sector have a way of lingering. Today we’re keeping one foot in the past as we predict the top factors affecting student recruitment in 2024. Better still, we’re providing tips on how to best navigate them. Here are our top topics:

The Continued Cost-of-Living Crisis

We could have an entire blog post dedicated to the cost of living crisis and all the ways it interferes with higher education. Instead we’ll focus on three major areas we’ve seen the biggest impact:

  1. A Drop in Open Day Bookings
    As many institutions have noted, there’s been a measurable drop in registrations for open days across 2023. Current students are weighing the feasibility of even attending university, let alone which one. An increase in travel costs and timing conflicts have also impacted families ability to attend multiple events, especially those a great distance away.

  2. Lack of Affordable Housing
    By no means restricted to the education sector, a severe lack of affordable housing is a growing concern. Students won’t come to your institution unless they have access to suitable accommodation throughout the entirety of their studies.

    The numbers tell the clearest picture of the severity of this issue. As presented during this year’s QS Europe conference, there’s only 1 suitable bed for every 7 students in the UK. The rest are left to find accommodation through the private sector. The issue is so bad that roughly 12% of students are expected to be homeless at some point during their studies.

  3. Food and Heating Costs
    We’ve heard just how much cost cutting measures have impacted students. 60% of current students surveyed by IDP Connect earlier this year reported being too cold to concentrate. Another 55% reported being too hungry to focus. When we talk about student wellbeing, nothing should come as a higher priority than their literal survival.

Our Advice: Without immediate government intervention these issues will only grow in 2024. It’s a massive challenge, but there are steps we can take as a sector.

There’s great power in messaging that speaks to a person’s needs. Communicate what your institution can do to better support students financially. Share details on food vouchers, free or reduced transit options, and heated spaces on campus. Partner with local businesses to find opportunities to reduce costs for essential items. Work with your city council to secure additional affordable housing and guarantee it for your incoming students. Every little bit helps.

As for open days, make attendance as convenient as possible. Continue to hold hybrid open days across multiple dates. Allow students to experience your location without paying for a train ticket or take time off work. If at all possible, provide travel vouchers to offset the cost. They will remember your efforts.

The Rise of Degree Apprenticeships

The second major prediction for 2024 involves degree apprenticeships.

A combination of cost of living concerns and criticism of so-called “Mickey Mouse” degrees has driven interest in practical experience. According to UCAS, there’s been a 62% rise in apprenticeship searches year over year. To meet this demand, UCAS has begun integration of apprenticeship opportunities on their site directly alongside traditional degree offerings. This new path forward has the potential to highly disrupt the sector, particularly for theory heavy courses.

Our Advice: Re-evaluate your course offerings with an eye for practical experience opportunities. Offer students support when looking for internships, connecting them with working professionals in local businesses. Be sure to incorporate details of these programmes into your communications to capture additional interest.

Government Intervention

Several large policies have been discussed and introduced over the last year, several which could greatly impact the sector in 2024.

You’ll recall back in July when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced intent to curb “low value” degrees. These are courses his party has determined result in low job prospects, high dropout rates, and few continued studies. There are growing concerns policies unfairly target mid-to-lower ranked unis, especially those who specialise in the arts.

Then there’s Sunak’s recommendation to merge A levels and T levels into a new Advanced British Standard. The move would require thousands of additional teaching staff, and take roughly ten years to fully implement. It’s a long way out, but will be highly discussed throughout 2024.

Let’s not forget the new immigration rules impacting students. This year saw a wave of new barriers placed to curb student migration by the UK government. These include restrictions for international students seeking to bring dependents into the nation. Additionally a new rule prevents students transitioning to working visas prior to completing their studies.

These policies are not limited to the UK, with anti-immigration measures announced in Canada and the Netherlands as well. Such restrictions will hurt diversification across the sector and limit recruitment to the richest nations.

Our Advice: There’s not much one can do individually other than vote. As a sector, we can build political pressure through our business partnerships as money speaks volumes. We also need to unite to dispel these notions of low value degrees through communication of their benefits. Be proud about the work you are doing locally, environmentally, politically and at scale and shout about it loudly. Provide the thought leadership the industry is best known for.  

The Role of Social Media on Recruitment

Recent reports from TSR and Keystone Education both highlight the rise in social media for research amongst prospective students. The catch? Students don’t often convert on these channels. Instead they use them to explore prospective communities. Without direct measurement outcomes, marketers will need to adjust their expectations of metrics to align with behaviours. Proving how much budget you need to make an impact on social? That is the real challenge.

Our Advice: There’s a greater need to re-evaluate the worth of engagement metrics, particularly in the face of reduced tracking. Increased investment into commonly used social channels will aid in both brand recognition and recruitment outcomes. It’s critical to understand student behaviours on each platform though and meet them in the phase of their individual journey.

The Great AI Push

AI has permeated every platform with tools to solve every need. From copy and imagery to results, AI promises to take the burden off of people and drive strong results. The AI push will only continue through 2024, but the impacts have yet to be seen at scale. With Gen Z beating the authenticity drum, relying too much on AI might have detrimental results.

Our Advice: Use AI tools to assist in data sifting and identifying trends. Leverage it as a thought starter, but then elaborate with greater context from an expert. Leave the creative elements and communications to human professionals.

Climate Initiatives

The world is on fire, literally. As leaders of thought, we know members within the Higher Education sector have a role to play in shaping public discourse. We’ve seen many institutions take the lead in terms of reducing their own carbon impact, but it needs to extend beyond that. One can only offset the energy cost of email sends so much. 2024 needs to be the year where institutions turn the spotlight towards the private sectors role and hold the biggest emissions producers responsible. Our students expect it.

Our Advice: Don’t just brag about your own institutions policy changes, create campaigns which speak to community efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Launch campaigns targeted towards businesses and find partners who share your vision.

The Top Trends of 2024

There you have it. A rundown of the HE sectors’ biggest challenges ahead and our advice on how to navigate them in the year ahead. As pointed out these are massive barriers, but with a little knowledge and shifts in strategy, your 2024 can shine.