Strategic issues – from Brexit to technological advances – are creating uncertainty and driving change in higher education. We are feeling and seeing the impact on how our sector operates and the expectations of students. Now, more than ever, we need to evaluate how we support students to find their best-fit institution and to finish what they start.

Last week Hobsons hosted our seventh annual London higher education conference, bringing together a record number of communications, admissions, recruitment, enrolment, and retention professionals from across the UK, Europe and the Middle East. There were more attendees and speakers than ever before but, most importantly, more session choices reflecting the wide variety of people who support students throughout their journey.

Bringing together a mixed group of higher education professionals, the workshop on Starfish displayed how it is orienting university resources around student-centricity. Ben Stein, Director of Student Success at Hobsons, emphasised that with the Teaching Excellence Framework imminent, what has always been important is now critical as universities strive to ensure student success. We know what works for student satisfaction and retention:helping students feel a sense of belonging. No two students’ journeys are the same and Starfish enables institutions to support student success through linking up different departments, identifying disconnected students and making it personal.

It is also vital that higher education institutions attract the right fit of international students. International study is of strategic global importance and our panel session on what the future holds for international students highlighted how international students help build understanding and relationships between nations.

Paul Raybould, Director of Marketing and Market Intelligence at Hobsons, trailed initial findings from this year’s International Student Survey (our biggest ever). The findings so far reveal that the way international students chose where to study is changing, and this proves both an opportunity and a challenge for the sector. When asked what the best thing about studying in the UK as an international student is, Indian-born Jaspreet Singh, Vice President of Student Experience at Birmingham City University, said that diversity was what he had benefited most from. As Paul said during the session, now is the time protect and push toward diversity and to look forward and focus on routes into Higher Education.

I chaired a session where David Brack, Head of Customer from UCAS, provided delegates with insights from the 2017 application cycle highlighting the declines in both domestic and EU students. Representatives from our partner universities, Lucy Everest, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Director of Marketing, Middlesex University and Dr. Alaric Rae, Director of Student Recruitment, University of Birmingham, discussed the implications for the sector which included lowering entry thresholds, increased offer rates, conversion strategies, more places in clearing and dealing with volatility and uncertainty in student numbers.

Our sector plays an important role in the UK economy, society and in nurturing generations to come. It is crucial that this continues and that we all play our role in supporting students to finish what they start. During this period of changing student applicant numbers, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture. This year’s Hobsons University highlighted that the student journey needs to be central to our higher education institutions and in what we do.

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