Our Research Director regularly supports students at the University of East Anglia. In one session, James met George Chrysostomou, who had some interesting insights on his experiences of how to ‘sell’ schools from a student’s perspective:
The race to a more appealing marketing strategy all starts with what makes your school stand out. As a current student and former pupil of an independent grammar school in Kent, I have seen how many educational institutions have tried to grab my attention.
Each academic body has tried to predict what I, as a student, would need from them; not simply a high level of education but something more. The grammar school I attended changed their tactics. When I first joined they were pitched to me as a language specialist school, aimed at equipping the next generation with multiple languages that would ensure that their students could travel the globe, using their skills.
Of course, as we moved further from our European neighbours, the school changed tactics. Adopting the thinking schools package, the new aim was to equip students with the ability to be more cognitive. Changing the way in which students think, focusing them upon the skills learnt, altering the way in which plans for projects were put together, inspiring creative solutions to problems in every department were all ways in which my school tried to stand out from the competition, ensuring that its’ students, upon leaving, would be much more aware of their skills and abilities as well as how to tackle problems in innovative ways.
The most important factor for me as a student is choice. Since my school was a language school, there was an expectation my career would involve these skills, despite having little interest. Moving to a thinking schools formula allowed students to choose which methods they would use. It equipped them with skills that were relevant because it gave students an element of choice. It engaged students in a way that enabled them to have a lot more control.
This is a crucial way in which you can engage your students further. Making sure that their studies are relevant to them is very important. Being able to link their education to their own aspirations, not just the expected outcome from the schools point of view, whether that be University or employment.
Students, more often than not, genuinely know what they want to do, but are usually worried that this does not meet what is expected of them or cannot see how the skills they have relate.
University had also been continuously pushed upon me, which, for a time, I was resistant to. UEA eventually appealed to me because of the range of choice I had over my course. Whilst other Universities boasted high performance figures, incredible architecture or sent LEGO to try and help brand themselves, the University of East Anglia made sure that I knew I would have choices if I attended and provided an environment I felt comfortable in. This may just be why the student satisfaction at the University is so high. Whilst my school was often advertised to parents, boasting its unique budget, its high league table ranking and its impressive inspection report, my University felt like it wanted to engage me, the student.
Of course, Universities must appeal to parents on some level and use similar rankings and reports to do so. But the emphasis on the support for a student, both in work and outside of the academic realms, really became appealing. At school, students seem to get lost as numbers and grades; at University they are individuals with their own choices. Marketing a school in this way ensures students are being engaged and know that their aspirations and choices matter. The way they learn and how relevant it is to them is just as important as what they learn and the skills they develop doing so. Students value skills. They value transitional skills for University or for employment. They value educational institutions that appeal to them in a unique way, presenting them with ways in which they will be prepared for whatever comes next in a comfortable environment. But, most of all students value choices and control. Control over their education, the path they wish to forge and the way in which they will develop the abilities to do so.
By George Chrysostomou