With Open Day season about to get into full swing, and modest gains in international recruitment at many institutions fuelling a stronger emphasis on domestic enrolments, a new UAC study has provided valuable insights into student behaviour.
Campus activation budgets will be bursting out like never before, with the research finding that campus vibe was the pre-eminent driver of student choice. The UAC Student Lifestyle Report 2023 examined the preferences of more than 14,000 Year 12 students from across the country in 2022, all of whom were in their teens.
While it is important to differentiate between the drivers of choice that students nominate and those that they consciously and subconsciously actually act upon, the survey provides fascinating insights. It also explains why marketing strategies from other sectors frequently do not translate. consumer behaviour in the rest of the world to the process of signing up newcomers to several years of educational toil.
The report underscores the importance of differentiating between student purchases of consumer goods and services compared to their choice of university. For example, 65% of students said that discounts and offers were key drivers of their general spending, well ahead of friends (50%) and parents (a startling 36%). Favourite shops were Kmart, Cotton On and Woolworths, and favourite tech brand far and away Apple. However, when selecting a degree, 58% said they were choosing based on vibe and campus culture, while just 34% said they would choose based on cost and 25% said they would choose based on scholarships.
So most prospective undergraduates leaving school choose their purchases of a $10 burger or a $90 pair of jeans based on discounts, but choose their $45,000 FEE-HELP loan funded course based on vibe.
In another example, 83% said they never used buy now, pay later services. While respondents had just completed year 12, many were on the cusp of signing up to their first buy now pay later scheme in the form of income-contingent FEE-HELP loans, enabling them to complete their studies and pay for them at a later stage in life. Market research over many years has indicated a lack of price sensitivity in relation to HECS/FEE-HELP and the failure of the recent Job Ready Graduates policy to change demand by applying a price differential to these income contingent loans again highlights the difference between the ‘purchase’ of education and the purchase of other goods and services. Many students do not perceive enrolment in a course to be a financial purchase decision, despite the downstream financial consequences they commit to.
This doesn’t suggest graduates are either foolish or deluded – but the complexity and the full ramifications of paying for a degree are not necessarily part of the enrolment decision. Students may apply greater fiscal rectitude to ‘spending’ their ATAR to attain the course perceived as most desirable with little consideration or perhaps little priority to the financial implications of the decision.
The survey found that 60% of students wanted to study on campus and a further 38% would opt for blended learning – in line with the importance of vibe and campus culture and location and proximity as drivers of choice. Only 2% were seeking online learning as their first choice – a result largely in keeping with other studies of school leavers.
Passion for subject matter was the primary driver of subject choice for 83% of respondents, followed by 56% seeking employability outcomes of graduates. Class sizes was a deciding factor for only 5% of graduates – a warning sign of interest to many smaller universities that seek to laud that attribute.
The top five facilities prospective students expected were;
- 24 hour access to library/study/computer rooms (81%)
- free wi-fi (79 %)
- free/low-cost food (77 per cent)
- student lounges and communal spaces (63 per cent)
- low-cost parking (61 per cent)
- UAC’s 2022 national survey found that “vibe and campus culture” was the top reason for selecting an institution, at 58 per cent, way up on 45 per cent in ’22 – and well ahead of other factors such as global rankings (26 per cent) and scholarships (25%).
The survey emphasised that students were seeking to pursue their passions and meet new people on campus – in line with the way that the most respondents preferred to spend time – hanging out with friends (70%).