How can a world-ranked university increase applications from students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds who could succeed at their institution? By creating an integrated program that understood how the student journey created an experience that made students feel wanted and welcomed.

Despite having the ability, many students from socially or economically disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to apply for university, and even less likely to apply for places at more prestigious courses and providers. For a university or any education provider, this means missing out on students that will perform well and who will provide a source of recommendation for future students, and return for ingoing education.

The initial stage of the project focussed on working with stakeholders to understand which segments to include and which were out of scope.  Some groups were deemed too specialised or small for inclusion in the project, or the issues relating to that group reflected their campus experience rather than university accessibility.  Given the nature of the project, this was a highly sensitive, but essential discussion.

Working in partnership with the university, and our extended team, the project went wide and deep.  The initial part of the review included understanding the application and completion trends across courses and faculties from internal and industry data sources.  Running parallel to this analysis, we reviewed how competitors were trying to attract and engage students from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Information from both these analysis areas was then used in interviews with faculty staff, student career advisors, program partners, and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.  To provide a broader range of experience, we then undertook a surveys among career advisors and school councillors, and among students who had accepted a place at the university and those who had not accepted a place to test potential strategies and initial hypotheses.

Results and recommendations from the projects lead to a redesign of the student experience that simplified the process, how students could learn about and access scholarships, how and when offers made.  This strategy lead to notable improvements in how the university was seen by the prospective market, increased applications from the target groups, and allowed our client to invest in more innovative approaches that engaged students who could succeed in their courses.