Posted on 21 Jun '22

How to Use Human Values to Distinguish Your University Offering to Prospective Postgraduates

Following their extremely popular webinar on building brand loyalty with postgraduate prospects, Kendra Rogers, Head of Insight and Strategy from psLondon, delves deeper into what human values postgraduates care about and how these can be used in your recruitment activities.

Ask any postgraduate recruitment and marketing team what the top USPs are for choosing a university and they’ll say: Course, Employability and Flexibility. And it’s the same when you ask the prospective students.

The problem is that those are very rational and top-of-mind – and do not necessarily offer space for insight into the deeper decision-making that prospects are undertaking. During a custom qualitative and quantitative survey conducted earlier this year (full results to be published later this month) a single quote by one postgraduate respondent gave us a clue into their deeper thinking:

“It offers the course I want and has similar values to mine.”

The power of aligning values

Values alignment is an impactful area for marketeers to learn from and can create organisational resonance. Our findings show that there is a deeper meaning behind what university is chosen and what is expected from that university experience. Understanding this deeper meaning provides universities with the ability to differentiate their postgraduate brand promise, proposition, and experience.

Based on Milton Rokeach’s theories, outlined in ‘The Nature of Human Values,’ at psLondon we have had remarkable success using human values to differentiate universities. This is something that is notoriously hard to do, as is evidenced by the cycles of sameness for which the sector is often criticised. As one of the leading agencies in the Higher Education space, we had no choice but to come up with a new way to differentiate – or risk those awkward conversations with university after university who thought that all believed their differentiator was “life-changing”!

The most valuable values

Overall, our respondents selected “the pursuit of knowledge” “lifestyle fit” and “positive challenge” as the most aligned values with their choice of university. This on its own starts to supply fertile ground for creativity, but once we dug into each individual university however, things got interesting.

University 1: a Russell Group university, internationally renowned

Graph showing what values students most associate with their choice of university

In the case of this Russell Group institution, wealth and determination were over-indexed compared to the group, and inclusivity and the pursuit of knowledge were under-indexed. What we mean by over and under-indexed is the difference between the values selected by students who chose a particular university (yellow) and the values selected by our total respondents (black), which includes students at other universities.

So if a value, for example Freedom, is over-indexed at University #2, it means that freedom is considered more important to students attending or likely to attend University #2 (yellow) than it is across the board (black) - and that University #2 is succeeding in attracting students who value their freedom.

University #2: are not part of the Russell Group and their ethos is around accessible education

Graph showing the values a student associates with their choice of university

The findings show that they are majorly over indexing on freedom, while under-indexing on diversity and creativity.

Distinguishing your offering

This is exciting because it means that these are remarkable, insight-led areas for differentiation and exploration for these two universities... and it leaves spaces like inclusivity, diversity, or creativity as spaces for other universities to own (should that be where the insight leads them). If we can clearly understand and articulate the deeper values that our university allows postgraduate students to tap in to, we can build brand loyalty and capture imagination.

Here are a few quick tips as to how to do just that:

  • Conduct qualitative research to derive what is meaningful for the university and its students
  • Build supporting quantitative research of key attributes and characteristics
  • Craft a brand oyster – a one-page articulation of your university brand (psLondon can help!)
  • Once you understand your university’s terminal human values, share them authentically – by ensuring your marketing and communications are creative, inspiring and original.

Want the full report?

Curious to learn where your university stands? We will be sharing the full findings later this month. Get a sneak peek at the research.

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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