We at HECG believe that university Faculties should and can take a lead role in recruiting their own students rather than abdicating the responsibility and leaving it entirely in the hands of centralized recruitment offices. Recruiting students ought to be a process that begins and ends within the Faculty, utilising Recruitment and Marketing departments for their specialized expertise and recruitment facilitation processes when necessary. Over the next few days in this blog we will demonstrate how Faculties can market themselves to potential students and their families and offer solutions on how to overcome the inevitable challenges and obstacles. We begin with an overview:

For a country with a relatively small population Australia has a considerable number of universities: 40 with 130 other higher education providers of various kinds. Taken together, they comprise more than one million students, and employ more than 100,000 staff. Commonwealth Government funding arrangements since 2012 mandate a “demand-driven” system meaning that enrolments in each public university, along with the system as a whole, can now move up and down in line with student demand.

A significant outcome of this system – and its size – is that universities compete with one another to attract students, both domestic and international. This means that university managements put significant resources into marketing and public relations in an effort to boost the profile and public awareness of their institutions. To a large extent this is a centralised effort – for example, each university has a director responsible for managing the university’s public affairs and external communication. In some universities this role also oversees the institution’s marketing, government relations, advancement and/or alumni activities.

However, this does not automatically mean that all marketing and recruitment activities must emanate from the central operations. In fact, great opportunities for marketing exist within individual Faculties (in Australia meaning the primary academic divisions in which teaching and research are conducted).  Indeed, it is the contention of this paper that the impetus for student recruitment must begin and end in individual Faculties.

It is true that Faculties do engage in marketing and recruitment activities, however what frequently occurs is that they tend to duplicate the efforts of centralized expert departments rather than utilise their own knowledge of the needs of their students and why students want their specific courses. Thus because centralised marketers, recruitment and PR professionals cannot be everywhere and see everything, many outstanding opportunities for promoting the brilliant work of Faculties and their staff and students go begging.

The consequences of this are deeper than just missing out on publicity or innovative marketing campaigns. Failure of Faculties effectively to articulate why their courses are more beneficial for students or different from their competitors can have disastrous consequences: if enough students are not interested in pursuing a particular module/program of study then university managers may have no choice but to terminate it. Thus future generations face missing out on valuable learning experiences as an important branch of knowledge passes away.

Ultimately it is up to individual Faculties to build their student recruitment capabilities. As this paper will show this is entirely feasible and practical.

Recruitment and marketing: the pragmatic context

It may be thought by many academics that marketing and public relations has nothing to do with learning, teaching and research. In this view, it is a job for specific professionals who possess the necessary skills – professional educators and their colleagues are there to teach, not preach.

HECG believes this position belongs in a previous era.

The communications revolution – the advent of the Internet and a vast array of social networking and media platforms – has been a truly disruptive event the impact of which is seen most obviously in the precipitous decline in the popularity of print media and the linear menu model of viewing that exists in the television industry. Today, people can watch what they want, when and where they want. They can read what they want at their convenience on their device of choice – from mobile phone to tablet to laptop.

Conversely, they can communicate when they want in the manner that suits them best: think Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like, and the ubiquitous email. While potentially everyone is a media consumer they can also be content creators, be it on their own blog or YouTube channel. They are open to communication to anyone with a message they are interested in: in fact, there is evidence they prefer to receive information from “real” people as opposed to professional communicators.

Think of your Faculty and drill down to the various schools and departments (or whatever nomenclature is used in your university) and consider all the great work that is being carried out, but which does not make the headlines.

If you don’t tell their stories, who will?

This does not mean you are alone. Recruitment and marketing departments are there to provide specialist expertise when required and to facilitate the recruitment process. They are there to help you, so make use of them.

HECG’s team of expert marketers and media professionals has compiled this “how to” guide on presenting the work of your Faculty in the best light. It focuses on achievable, workable and proven practicalities.

However, it does require a degree of focus and application and perhaps, we might suggest, a shift in attitude towards Faculty staff taking on the responsibility for recruitment – but fired by the knowledge that in effect you are motivated by the same things which drew you into higher education in the first place: a desire to champion the cause of learning and teaching and to uncover new knowledge and discoveries through research.

Essentially most students want to follow their interests as part of a community in which they feel they belong. People want to be with those who share the same interests and passions. Faculty are best placed to address both of these needs: they can engage on the “something of interest” and establish the community before the new students arrive. Importantly from a recruiment perspective such communities can last a lifetime. Students are not making a decision to go on a holiday for a few weeks – they are making a decision about their life, what they want to do and where to live – for a least the next few years.

It is essential that you ensure these responsibilities are not “farmed out” to a Faculty marketing officer but are shared among academic and professional support staff so that everyone “owns” student recruitment.