Posted on 24 Jun '21

The Evolving Landscape of Postgraduate Recruitment Events

Ewan Fairweather, Postgraduate Student Recruitment Manager at The University of Edinburgh, comments on online and physical recruitment events and what the future holds.

It was a real privilege to participate in FindAUniversity’s recent live webinar. It was a welcome reminder that on a daily basis, I’m still doing similar pre-COVID things for similar reasons. I was able to communicate with a whole range of new people and, despite presenting from my spare bedroom, through the wonders of modern technology, I felt connected and energised. I wonder if that’s how virtual / online open day visitors feel? I certainly hope so!

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate what we do, why we do it and how and where it’s done. That’s certainly been the case with HE recruitment events, where with the flick of a switch we turned off physical and migrated to digital.

Digital done well delivers

The pandemic also accelerated our move at The University of Edinburgh, to an integrated platform (provided by EventsAIR) for hosting our large-scale online events. It forced us to shake up our thinking, re-focus the events and sharpen their purpose. Despite the inevitable initial teething problems, I can categorically state that in our experience, recruitment events delivered on a digital platform definitely work. But only if you approach them with the same levels of rigour and organisation and investment as a physical event.

When we review our key performance indicators: registration and attendance; engagement with the event and its constituent elements; event satisfaction and propensity to apply / accept an offer as provided in the post-event surveys and – crucially – post-event behaviour in terms of event registrants applying, receiving and accepting offers, the results speak for themselves.

Unparalleled reach and access

I believe online recruitment events done well have the potential for an equal if not greater impact on prospective students. They offer unparalleled reach – in terms of attracting a global audience but also in providing enhanced access to a more local audience who, due to work or caring responsibilities, or who for financial or other reasons may not be able to make the trip to campus to participate in a physical event. Throw in the availability of recordings and the possibilities of following up post-event in real time online and the additional benefits are clear to see.

One of the reasons for our strong performance at Edinburgh is that we have maintained an unwavering focus on the essence of our pre-COVID recruitment events. Our audiences still want what they’ve always wanted – live sessions and plenty of opportunities to engage with fellow human beings in real time – and that’s what we continue to deliver.

Still a place for physical

Don’t get me wrong, face-to-face and campus-based recruitment activity is still important. Location plays a key role in a prospective student’s decision about where to study. And make no mistake, The University of Edinburgh certainly benefits from being based in such a vibrant, historical and breathtakingly beautiful city.

Our recruitment efforts are aided by enabling prospective students to glimpse student life first-hand on campus and bringing them face to face with welcoming staff, including inspirational and globally renowned academics. The multisensory, heady cocktail of seeing, tasting, hearing, feeling and yes, smelling, Edinburgh is impossible to replicate online. As is the opportunity to see the whites of someone’s eyes, to shake a hand, or convey a whole host of other non-verbal cues.

But gazing into my crystal ball, I’m not forecasting that we’ll be returning to large-scale on-campus postgraduate Open Days any time soon. So I look forward to continuing our refinement of online events and reconfiguring our physical events and as we progress, both sharing our experiences with, and learning from, colleagues across the sector.

At FindAUniversity we’ve decided to postpone our physical study fairs until 2022 and focus on offering more virtual study fairs throughout 2021 to help you reach and recruit postgraduate students. Our next event is Postgrad LIVE Virtual Study Fair on 7-8 July, and we are testing a new 24-hour format with extended chat times encouraging student attendance from Asia-Pacific, UK, EU, and the Americas, at no additional cost. Find out more and how to book your booth.

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