Older universities forced to advertise in era of hard sell

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

Some of Britain's most well-established universities are being forced to market themselves more aggressively in the face of strong competition from the former polytechnics.

Last week a quarter of the 80 "old" universities took out advertisements for students in the Independent. Among them were several of the big civic universities including Birmingham, Liverpool and Leicester. Other institutions included York, Keele, East Anglia and Essex.

The latest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service listings are printed in Section Two of the Independent today. The figures show that 238,000 of the 270,000 places are now full compared with 221,500 at the same time last year. A total of 114,000 students are now eligible to enter clearing compared with 144,700 at the same time last year and 12,500 decisions still have to be made by universities. While few of the established universities have followed the lead of De Montfort in Leicester, which launched its third series of television advertisements last week, most now feel they need to keep a high profile to attract students.

Simon Willis, admissions officer at York, said funding penalties for under-recruitment made it essential for universities to fill places. "That does encourage us to look at the kinds of ways in which we can do that, and advertising is one way."

Changes in the clearing system have also increased competition. Unsuccessful students used to wait while their application form was passed around between the universities but now they are free to seek places.

At the new University of Luton, which recruited 60 per cent of its students through clearing last year and which advertises heavily, the head of admissions, Steve Kendall, said the old universities "had got caught in the past" and had learnt a lesson from their newer rivals.

Some of the new universities have achieved spectacular results through the hard-sell approach. Last year, the University of Glamorgan had a 50 per cent rise in applications after spending pounds 400,000 on an advertising campaign.

This year De Montfort hopes to repeat its success in previous years with its advertisements, which cost pounds 400,000 and which feature a wildebeest and a hungry crocodile. Professor Mike Brown, Pro Vice-Chancellor, said last year applications had risen by 1,400 to 28,628 while those at other universities in the region were dropping.

Brian Richardson, head of marketing at the University of Wales, Cardiff, said although the institution had advertised in the national press it had filled more than 96 per cent of its places before clearing started.

He said the newer universities were looking for a "quick fix" by using gimmicks. "We are definitely not interested in gimmicks. We find our best recruiter is our reputation for quality," he added.