Last-minute recruitment drives

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Sometimes courses just don’t recruit well enough via UCAS. This can be a particular problem for new courses that don’t appear in the league tables, but what students go for in a particular year can be down to factors one simply can’t predict, like the positive recruitment impact of a popular TV series whose lead character works in a specific field, or the negative impact of a high-profile politician’s pronouncements on another. This can leave programme leaders facing tough choices—including not running or even closing a course. What can academics do to bridge the gap when traditional admissions don’t quite cut it?

Get the word out

First, make sure people know that places are still available. Your Clearing officers need to push, of course, so make sure they get extra information. But consider also reaching out to local newspapers, and using social media and online forums that reach students. If it’s a new or rebranded course, make sure your press releases and posts tell a compelling story. “Why this course, why now?” and “What’s in it for me?” are questions that students want to be answered before considering an application. So, focus on a successful person working in the field, job and earnings opportunities, and any special facilities and opportunities students can expect. Current students in your department can be powerful recruiters, so send them information about the course and ask them to pass it on.

UCAS limits students’ application numbers, so this may mean routing around the limit by permitting some direct admissions. Your Admissions office will know how this works at your university, and what the boundaries are.

Reconsider your boundaries—or not

At most universities, the first thought when a course fails to recruit is to reconsider applications from students whose A level scores came up a bit short. This approach requires careful thought, however, as often those boundaries have been set based on the basic knowledge level needed to succeed. Be aware that lower standards at recruitment can mean extra resources are needed after admissions to re-level the playing field.

So when using this tactic, it’s wiser to take a case-by-case basis than to drop the floor altogether. Interviews with prospective students are often a better indicator than canned personal statements.

Take a sideways look

It’s especially useful to recruit from students whose first choice may have been a related but “sexier” course. Check with Admissions about contacts they may have had from students about similar courses that are already full, and make a direct approach.

You can also consider wider direct appeals. Social media is usually the best choice as it can be created and sent out straight away.

Think outside the “typical student” box

There may be pockets of people working in your field who do not have a full university qualification. See if you can quickly pull together a direct appeal and distribute it through major employers, unions, and any specialist media or Web forums that are likely to reach this group. Of course, making an offer to those who are already working means you may have to be flexible enough to accommodate them via part-time or evening classes. Also, consider whether your marketing has done enough to reach minority groups, such as ethnic minority students and students with disabilities. Very few programmes market directly to these groups; those that do often attract some very strong candidates who just needed to feel welcomed in.

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