by Matt Burton
, posted on 17 Mar '21

The Legacy of COVID-19 in Postgraduate Education Marketing and Recruitment


Matt Burton has worked at post-92 and Russell Group universities, and is now the Director of Marketing and Communications at Kaplan Open Learning. Here he shares his predictions for postgraduate recruitment post-Covid.


Let’s dare to dream that the COVID-19 pandemic really is on the retreat. As the vaccination programme sweeps across the world, we can all start to look forward to normality returning.

But what will ‘normality’ look like?

I’m looking forward to sitting in a coffee shop again, going on holiday with my family, and attending live football matches. But I also hope to retain some of the silver linings of this nightmare, such as the better work/life balance that remote working has spawned.

Like all other aspects of life, the world of postgraduate education marketing will find its ‘new normal’. Here are some predictions as to what it might entail.

The evolution of the Open Day

As Elliot Newstead explained back in November, the necessity to move all events online brought with it some interesting learnings. Some events started enjoying higher-than-normal attendances, and the virtual format proved infinitely more accessible to international students and those in full-time employment.

I’m sure we’ve all cringed while watching a laggard academic colleague struggling to get to grips with Zoom in front of a live audience, but on the whole virtual events have been a revelation, right?

I’d like to think that the ‘new normal’ will see most universities adopt a combined physical and virtual recruitment events calendar, better serving potential customers’ needs via the technological solutions that the world has embraced.

The most innovative of marketing and recruitment teams will even adopt a hybrid approach to open days, integrating digital technologies into face-to-face events, ultimately giving audiences far more choice as to how to engage.

The online learning market is fast-tracked

The demands of global lockdowns and social distancing have turned the majority of the world’s students into temporary distance learners. But I strongly suspect that the long-term future of the online learning market has been greatly accelerated by the pandemic.

Previous slurs on the reputation of online postgraduate courses have faced a day of reckoning. The familiar (and generally unfounded) trope of “online courses are lower quality” holds less sway in 2021. It’s also a lot harder to argue that “employers don’t respect online degrees” when a whole generation of students has spent at least a year studying online.

During the pandemic, demand has increased significantly for online courses and (very notably) some reports have suggested that more than 50% of prospective international students would consider studying online.

As the world returns to normality, the demand for online learning may dip or fluctuate, but it won’t decrease to pre-pandemic levels.

If not already, universities need to reassess their online portfolios and marketing approaches for distance learning. Fully online providers (such as us at Kaplan Open Learning) need to be wary of increased competition.

Does grade inflation increase the UK postgraduate market size?

At undergraduate level, a record 35% of UK-based students received a first-class degree in 2020 – an increase from 28% in 2019.

The ‘no detriment’ policies adopted by many universities meant that undergraduate students were awarded final grades no lower than their most recent in-year assessment. Many universities will also apply similar policies in 2021.

Undergraduate students gaining higher degree classifications naturally results in a higher proportion of graduates who meet the entry requirements for a broader range of postgraduate courses.

Destabilisation in the employment market is also a likely catalyst for increased demand for postgraduate education. The recession caused by the 2008 financial crisis led to sharp increase in PG students for 2-3 years.

With UK unemployment on the rise again, more graduates may turn their attention to the safety net of postgraduate study.


There is much uncertainty in how the UK (and the World) will bounce back from the challenges of this debilitating pandemic, and my predictions/thoughts may be completely wrong! But it’s worth debating as we (postgraduate recruiters and marketers) try to plan ahead.


Want to know more? Our FREE webinar will be taking a closer look at postgraduate recruitment post-Covid. Join us on Wednesday 24 March to find out what prospective students are thinking and what the international recruitment market will look like. Can't attend? Register and we'll send you the recording. For more details and to reserve your place, visit our webinar web page.


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