Online learning doesn’t mean students aren’t looking for that university experience

Eleana Davidson on 18 November 2020

The majority of students are keen to return to university after Christmas, as they're missing out on the social aspects of university life while studying from home. How can you support them?

As the Christmas break and the pending end of term is on everyone’s mind, there are question marks around so many aspects, from the travel-opportunity-window to whether or not national lockdown will cease at all in December. But universities have even more questions on their list; what will happen in January, will students come back, will they even want to? We asked our student panel this week and their answer was clear: Yes. 

This week’s tracker found that, despite the halls-lockdowns, online learning and constant disruptions, students still crave that sociable environment and campus experience, even when Covid has limited so much. Here’s what we found. 

Come January, most students want to return to campus (halls of residence or rented accommodation) and study face-to-face. Of course, that may not be possible for a long while yet, but here’s what’s interesting: They’d rather come back to campus and study online, than stay at home (read: at their parents’ home) and study online. In other words, they’re eager to get back to uni.

“I would definitely prefer to return to campus as it is a good environment to learn with access to the library and various study spaces. Also, I am paying for accommodation.”

“I like online class but want the social opportunities of campus life. I’ll be coming back for sure.”

Returning to campus is very important to many students

The majority of students find it easier to learn and more sociable when based on campus. Students also commented that they’d already pre-paid for accommodation so felt that they should not be asked to stay at home.

Here at Student Hut, we look at these responses as a testament to the work institutions have been doing over the last eight months, fostering a sense of community and connection, even when this year has thrown curveball after curveball. 

But now that you’re starting to look ahead to the intake of 2021, don’t forget to relay these messages to new prospective students; that the university experience is still possible, and here’s what you’re doing to ensure so. 

Evidently, there are students already on your campus really benefitting from these social elements, learning better in the process, so find them and let them share their stories. Brand ambassadors, user-generated content and authentic messages will be more important than ever. University is scary at the best of times, but embarking on this next chapter in these current times amid cancelled exams, online A-Levels and virtual Open Days, they’re going to need even more nurturing. Students listen to students, we know that, so get them talking.  

And where do you come in?

Consider the resources and guidance you can give to existing and prospective students at this time. Think content marketing, long-form copy, storytelling and guides. Have you got downloadable resources around how to get the best from blended learning, how to use a library, what you need to revise for an online exam? 

Just because online learning looks like our reality for the foreseeable future, doesn’t mean that students aren’t looking to universities for connection and community, and you can still provide that. Keep that in mind in your next cycle of advertising and marketing. As well as simple yet thorough guides and communications about some of the more fundamental elements of university life that we may take for granted. These students feel unprepared, out of control and worried, so keep being their beacons. 

We have just one more Insight Tracker to go (34 weeks later!) so if you would like to get the most of the student insights Student Hut has to offer before Christmas, be sure to sign up for the full tracker here

Eleana Davidson
Eleana Davidson on 18 November 2020