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Generation Covid: applicant feelings towards university in 2020, and the importance of student support

Susan Roberts

Susan Roberts

Aug 25, 2020

Generation Covid: an insight into the thoughts and feelings of this year's university cohort in the UK, with a key message - the provision of support for all aspects of the student experience is essential.

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of UCAS, spoke at the Festival of Higher Education earlier this month, with a talk titled Generation Covid: a confidence and contact challenge. Clare outlined the thoughts and feelings of applicants towards attending courses starting in September, how they have changed from month to month throughout the pandemic, followed by discussion and recommendations for the forthcoming academic year.

2020: “There has never been a better time to apply to HE.”

This has been a key message to school pupils for the last few years; as the UK population is currently in the middle of a demographic dip in the number of 18 year olds, 2020 was the best year to enter higher education, and is also probably the best year yet for those from the most disadvantaged groups to apply to university. This was reflected in 24.6% of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds applying by the January deadline, up from 23.3% in 2019. Proof that pre-covid, the intent of this part of the demographic was to attend university.

How has this changed since the pandemic? What has Covid taught us about the 2020 cohort and how they feel about going to university? UCAS have undertaken applicant surveys to find out.

Screenshot 2020-07-30 at 10.52.51

The poll of 11th May 2020, right in the heart of the UK lockdown period, revealed a real confidence crisis, with 98% of participants indicating that they had concerns about starting university this autumn. 

However, the follow up poll of June 2020 indicated that confidence was much improved as the announcements of blended learning approaches and social programme provisions were made by institutions. 

More positive news is reflected in the latest update on university and college applications made by 30 June 2020; a record 40.5% of all UK 18 year olds have applied – the first time more than four out of ten have applied by this point in the cycle. For the first time, over a quarter (25.4%) of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (using the POLAR4 measure) across the UK have applied to university or college.

Although this is positive news, Clare is keen to point out that applicant confidence is fragile, and therefore it is absolutely crucial to build that confidence and reassure this year’s cohort.

How can we ensure that the applicants attend this academic year, and retain those students throughout their courses, in this post-Covid world?

“‘Students will continue to need support over the summer to successfully transition onto their courses, including the record number of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

Sarah Marchant, Chief Executive, UCAS

The last few months indicate that the message is clear: with an unfamiliar university experience ahead for this year’s cohort, the provision of support for all aspects of the student experience is essential. We must digitise and offer tools, information and advice in a very personalised and unique way to these students, ensuring that they feel they will be supported, from study support to wellbeing to social activity, so that applicants feel that attending university will not only be a positive experience, but also represent good value for money. With the highest level of drop outs traditionally occurring during the first year of study, applicants should feel confident that they will be supported throughout their course. The time for contextualised and personalised information is now.

Screenshot 2020-07-30 at 16.00.00

A newly published report by Liz Smith Associates using data from UK universities investigates the merits of Studiosity, to help universities make an evaluation of its on-demand, personalised support and whether or not it can help meet their needs and, more importantly, the needs of their students. 

The impact evaluation found that both the well-being and the success of Studiosity users increased, and progression data was significantly better for Studiosity users. You can download the report below.

Get the report

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