Our strategy then was to provide efficient, continuously improving admissions services for higher education providers and applicants, and to undertake a fundamental review of the undergraduate admissions process – as a precursor to creating a new single portal which would serve our core undergraduate admissions function. In time, we would expand the portal to improve our services for part-time, postgraduate, and international admissions, thereby increasing our share of the higher education market.
In the meantime, changes in student demand for higher education, funding, numbers of places, and secondary education, have caused a fundamental shift in the dynamic for admissions. A market has been created in undergraduate admissions, with an increase in the number of universities and colleges recruiting rather than selecting students for their courses.
While new recruitment and marketing strategies have been deployed by universities and colleges, we have yet to see any significant challenge to the three-year, full-time undergraduate degree model. Although our strategy recognised the changing communications preferences of young people, the rapid expansion of social media and exponential growth in users wanting to access our services from multiple mobile devices has proved both an opportunity and a challenge.
In considering our strategy for the next five years, we believe that the magnitude of future change may be as substantial as in the past five. As universities and colleges look to reduce costs and find new ways to secure student numbers and quality, we anticipate that disruptive strategies may start to emerge.
With the lines between admissions and recruitment becoming increasingly blurred, UCAS recognises that a key part of its service to higher education providers is strong advocacy for the benefits of higher education, attracting potential applicants to use our admissions services, and ensuring that learners have access to information which will help them make informed choices about their applications.
While we cannot predict how the higher education sector will evolve and change over the next five years, amongst the many uncertainties we can be sure that the strategic challenges UCAS will face will be primarily shaped by:
- the level of demand for higher education
- the range of choices and study options available
- cost-saving and efficiency pressures
- Governments’ policies on qualifications, higher education funding, regulation, higher education funding, regulation, and immigration.
Overall, we believe it is likely that we will see continuing demand for higher education and higher level skills. Whilst the standard three-year undergraduate programme will remain the norm, other choices such as higher apprenticeships, employer training, and study abroad are also likely to grow. We expect to see new higher education providers entering the market and existing providers adjusting their market position, as well as the development of innovative learning models giving students more choice about when, where and how to study. This indicates a primarily recruiting admissions culture and emphasises the importance of enabling students to understand the education and progression choices they have and to make well informed decisions about these.