Posted on 18 Nov '20

Why We Really Need to be Talking – and Listening – to Prospective Masters Students Right Now

It's never been more vital for postgraduate marketing and recruitment to understand the motivations, aspirations and concerns of different student audiences. FindAUniversity's Head of Content, Dr Mark Bennett, explains exactly why – and introduces the plans for our 2021 Future Masters Student Survey.

Talking to future postgraduate students is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting parts of my job. That's not exaggeration or LinkedIn window dressing*. It's simply true. Postgraduate study is interesting, by definition. It's about people pursuing the knowledge they really care about. I mean, some of them care about it so much that, if it doesn't exist, they go off and create it. Getting to talk to hundreds of prospective Masters and PhD students a year is a real privilege and a pleasure, whether it happens in a big hall on campus, or via a laptop in my kitchen (thanks, 2020).

It's also pretty useful for me professionally. My team manages and produces content that exists to inform and assist prospective postgraduate students. We need to know what they need to know and we can't simply make assumptions about those needs – or ignore the potential for them to change and evolve. Speaking of which...

*Hello to anyone reading this via LinkedIn.

Where we are and where we've been: a PG history lesson

Back in 2015 there were no student loans for Masters and PhDs in the UK, but there were such things as EU students (and they were often quite keen on those Masters and PhDs). It was also incredibly hard to find UK postgraduate funding as an international student, but plenty of people still tried. Skip ahead to the end of 2021 and postgraduate loans will increasingly be part of the furniture, EU students will just be international students, but international students will be eligible for UKRI funding and benefit from a new post-study work visa.

There are a few things that still need to be fixed, but we really are on the threshold of some huge changes for postgraduate study – and they're mostly positive. Even the uncertainty and disruption caused by the pandemic is at least making more people aware of the opportunities postgraduate study affords for CPD and retraining. We just need to make sure more people can afford it – but that's a different article.

But all of this makes it even more important to be listening to prospective students right now and in the future. Which is exactly what we're doing.

Where we're going: introducing the Future Masters Student Survey

Last year we worked with our huge and highly engaged FindAPhD community to produce the first ever Future PhD Student Survey: examining exactly what prospective doctoral students really thought and felt about doing a PhD. This year we've also been tracking the immediate impact of coronavirus on 2020 postgraduate study plans.

In 2021, we're expanding this research to launch our first Future Masters Student Survey, harnessing our channels and communities to find out what really motivates, inspires, engages and concerns prospective Masters-level students. We'll be investigating exactly what it is different groups of people seek in a Masters, and, crucially, how they seek for it.

I'd welcome any comments or suggestions as we begin to scope out this research. Watch this space for further updates.

Wider research opportunities

As part of this project, we'll also be working with Alterline, a specialist higher education intelligence and insight agency. They'll be running in-depth qualitative research alongside our core survey, engaging directly with communities of prospective students to find out exactly what they think and feel about postgraduate study.

Our core Future Masters Student Survey results will be made available in the normal way via reports, webinars and – fingers crossed – physical conference and discussion events next year. You can also opt in to Alterline's wider research project: Intelligence to support prospective 2021/22 PGT student recruitment during Covid-19. This will enable you to benefit from nuanced qualitative insight as well as accessing institution-level intelligence to gain more specific information about your own audiences.

The full seven-month research and insight project features:

  • Two waves of quantitative surveys of 2,000 respondents in key regions, delivered in partnership with FindAMasters
  • The formation of qualitative online communities of up 40-50 prospective PGT students in each wave, allowing in-depth exploration of the emotions, underlying attitudes and intentions of this audience
  • Fieldwork for this research is planned to take place in Nov/December and March/May 2021, with the opportunity to incorporate topical questions around the time of year and the latest Covid-19 developments

Please contact Sharon Steele at Alterline if you'd like to learn more, or are considering joining.

FindAUniversity take pride in being experts in postgraduate education. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for regular insight, comment and case studies.

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