Is the cost of living impacting students' university choices?
10th April 2023
Across the UK, student interest in HE is changing. On Unifrog, which is used by 2,300 UK schools and colleges, we’ve seen a 1.1% drop in students making university shortlists compared to the 2022 entry cycle. And for the first time, careers that don’t necessarily require a degree were the most favourited among 2023 entry students. Could the cost of living be playing a part – and if so, are less students going to university as a result?
What does the data show?
Unifrog’s latest student survey reached over 11,000 students across the country. Of these, 65% indicated that they were worried about money, and over half ranked fees and accommodation costs as one of the top three factors affecting their university choices.
These findings fuelled part of the discussion at Unifrog’s HE Summit earlier this month, a packed room of 80 recruitment and marketing professionals from across the Higher Education sector. Representatives from dataHE alongside institutions like the University of Lancaster, Newcastle University, and University of Salford got together to talk about the challenges facing the sector collectively.
The Summit was a sold-out event, highlighting the value of coming together as a sector to work on issues like the impact of the cost of living.
“I think the most important thing about today’s event is how many people are here. Having such a spread of universities, such a range of people in the room, really helps us to think about the whole sector and the challenges we’re all facing”
Robbie Pickles, Global Recruitment and Admissions at Keele University
Unifrog’s mission is to level the playing field when it comes to students finding and applying for the best post-school pathways for them. One of the ways we do this is through our shortlisting tools, where students can compare university, apprenticeship, and college and sixth form opportunities across the world.
On these tools, we provide filter and rank buttons to help students tailor their results to their preferences. For example, they could find an engineering degree that's part time and within 10 miles from home, and then rank their results by the cost of rent.
Data from Unifrog's shortlisting tools shows us that between autumn 2021 and 2022, cost was one of the top ten groups of factors among the ranks and filters students selected. Even more telling, for the 2023 cycle, there has been a 281% increase in the number of students using cost-related ranks and filters to conduct their searches on Unifrog.This suggests students were prioritising courses with lower fees, better value for money, or in locations with lower costs of living.
How can you support students in making their university choices?
As a university, you can make the most of insights like these by reiterating the financial support you can offer to prospective students before they even apply. This could be in the form of webinars on budgeting from finance teams, or promoting on-campus work opportunities. You could also add a financial hub to your website to make information on bursaries and hardship funding easy for prospective students to find.
Getting students to see the value of going to university – if it is the right pathway for them – is another way Unifrog supports students. We work with two thirds of UK universities, our HE partners, who sponsor guides on what their university is ‘really like’, talking through deciding factors like location, accommodation, and student support. They can also sponsor Unifrog guides that highlight the unexpected careers different degrees can lead to, helping students understand the versatility of a degree and feel reassured of their investment and their university choices.
How else can Unifrog support you?
A key benefit to becoming a HE partner at Unifrog is access to our Insights tool, a live dashboard that allows you to analyse regional student demand, and how this compares to your competitors. As a partner, you can use this to spot any changes in demand that might occur as a result of issues like the rising cost of living. Crucially, you can then identify potential problems ahead of the application stage.
“Unifrog is a great channel to… encourage and enthuse students to consider [our university]. It’s a really important platform for us to have a presence on”
Fred Binley, Head of Student Recruitment, Lancaster University
Though cost is seemingly playing a key role in influencing students’ decisions, by capitalising on data from Unifrog’s insights you can help your university to adapt to these challenging times.
Want to know more about becoming a Unifrog partner? Get in touch with our HE team and we’ll be happy to share more of our expertise.