Russell Group recruitment choices.

Russell Group recruitment choices.

English Russell Group universities have benefited from endowed recruitment power and are well placed in the new market. But they have recruitment choices too. Mark Corver looks at their record in the data.

Universities with higher grade students – typified by the Russell Group – are sought after by applicants and had a ready route to gain numbers when number controls were removed. We’ve seen two strategic patterns in this market.

First, most English Russell Group members did exercise this endowed recruitment power by growing, typically at the expense of grades. The average English Russell Group intake of the benchmark UK 18 year old category is up by over a quarter since 2011 (shown here using UCAS End of Cycle recruitment data from www.ucas.com).

But the key market message is the wide range of recruitment outcomes around that average, from slight falls to 50%+ increases. There are two drivers for this range. The first is the different experience of the ‘external’ young demand environment, set by a university’s unique geography and portfolio mix. The second, and often dominant in our experience, is the leadership’s ‘internal’ choice on strategic intent, especially the entry grade / volume trade-off.

For some, the path they want to follow is clear and they have the recruitment power to do so. For others it is an agonisingly finely balanced choice. Reduce the focus on volume too soon and you curtail your ability to invest in estate, experience and marketing. This limits your potential to benefit from the game-changing growth in the demand pool in the mid-2020s. But fail to shift focus to entry grades quickly enough, and you sabotage that very same potential by being too far down the rankings to attract who you want.

Our reading from the data is that the fundamentals are good for UK HE, and extremely good for RG universities. Certainly the ones we have worked with have been able to plot a trajectory from the data that gets them to the quality/volume future they want. And they are already seeing results.

If you are in a RG university the most significant recruitment risk in this new market is a probably a rather old one: complacency. Not reading the patterns in the data quickly enough and losing your recruitment power to those that are.