Almost every story in the media at the moment is one of doom and gloom: levels of unemployment are up; the recession is likely to be deeper than first predicted; companies are going into administration; house prices are still falling; bankruptcy is on the rise – and so it goes on.
However, as the history of previous recessions bears out, while other sectors can find themselves struggling in these economic conditions, universities actually tend to benefit.
So why is this?
As people start to worry about their job security, some see gaining additional qualifications as a means of increasing their skills base – embarking on postgraduate study provides a means of improving their employability by enhancing their CV and future career prospects.
Similarly, people who become unemployed tend to study to improve their chances in the future. As Janette Rutherford, Professor of Financial Management at the Open University Business School commented last year, this is why “you typically see increases in the numbers doing MBAs, Law and Accounting courses as people look for courses that offer tangible qualifications with professional credibility.”
Universities also benefit from people wanting to retrain, with some viewing the threat of unemployment as their chance to move into the career they always dreamt of having.
But what about graduates?
With the news that graduate recruiters are cutting targets this year, there is increasingly stiff competition among students for available places. According to the recently published Graduate Recruitment Survey 2009, carried out by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, vacancies are expected to decrease by 5.4% in 2009, with a total of 46% of organisations planning to hire fewer graduates – 35% of these have cited the economic climate as the reason.
This decline in graduate scheme numbers has the potential to drive more students to apply for postgraduate courses. Graduates are increasingly likely to choose to stay on at university to bolster their skills and delay their entry into the job market.
Universities are tuning into this wave of potential applicants.
Durham University announced just last month that it is awarding 102 scholarships of £2000 to its graduates for one-year taught postgraduate courses for October 2009 entry. Professor Anthony Forster, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning at Durham University, said: “We’ve launched this scholarship because we recognise that, even for the most academically able and talented graduates, it’s a tough economic environment in which to seek employment.”
However it is not just number of home students that are on the rise
The British Government has increased scholarship amounts to encourage overseas students to pursue higher education too.
Combining this with the weak pound, many universities are currently seeing an increase in the number of international applications they are receiving. Courses and living expenses are once again becoming more affordable for potential overseas students.
Research by the British Council has predicted particular growth in the numbers of students from India, China and Nigeria. The demand for higher education in India especially is at a historic high, and forecast to continue growing. Indeed, according to the Head of Education UK, South India, the number of Indian students flying to the UK for higher studies has gone up by 20 per cent.
Is there a ‘but’ in all of this?
With so much positivity surrounding higher education recruitment, in the midst of such tough economic conditions, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that universities must be “sitting pretty” right now.
But there is a note of caution to be sounded. Much of this positive forecasting is just that, forecasting. Universities will have to wait until later on in the year to see whether their increase in application numbers converts to firm course acceptances.
And, as Darren Wallis, Director of Student Admissions and Recruitment at Warwick University, warns, “Upskilling through postgraduate study is certainly a sensible option and one we would encourage. But it needs to be the right course at the right institution to make it a sound and justifiable investment.”
So how can you, as a recruiter, ensure you reap the benefits of all of this?
There are several things that universities can do to try to take advantage of this increase in demand, including:
- Promoting the benefits of your institution – tell people just how brilliant it is to study with you
- Widely advertising your courses and open days – if people don’t know about them they won’t come!
- Writing strong advert copy – a good advert attracts attention and encourages more people to apply for your courses
If you would like to find out more about how to advertise your postgraduate courses and open days to an audience of over 37,000 unique users visiting the Career Development section on our website, simply call us on +44 (0)24 7657 4140, or email firstname.lastname@example.org