Similarly, as the cost of undergraduate degrees soars to £9,250 a year, universities are seeking to prove their worth to students by forging strong relationships with graduate employers.
While the commercial side of brand relationships tends to be negotiated by student unions, university marketing departments are focused on strategies that build strong employer branding partnerships, explains Emma Leech, director of marketing and advancement at Loughborough University.
Over the past few years, a university’s links with industry and ability to offer placement opportunities has “crossed the line” to become as important a factor in a student’s decision to apply to a university as its reputation, says Leech.
“Brand association is therefore really important so more time and effort is being put into nurturing these employer brand relationships. It’s about the halo effect.”
The Loughborough marketing team aims to strike partnerships with brands around shared agendas, where there is a genuine synergy between what the university and brand stand for.
One way into these partnerships is through a skills match, which sees brands working with universities on targeted projects to attract fresh talent in areas where the business might have a skills shortage.
“We’re seeing what you would conventionally see as ‘harder-nosed businesses’ now understanding the value of people, and they’re cherry picking the brightest students and going out of their way to connect with them,” she explains.
Brand association is really important so more time and effort is being put into nurturing these employer brand relationships.
Emma Leech, Loughborough UniversityIn July, Loughborough took part in a four-day residential course with Ford, which was focused on encouraging girls to consider applying to the university to study for a ‘STEM’ career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Tasked with designing communities of the future, the girls took part in a series of workshops ranging from design and architecture to computer science and robotics.
“A lot of engineering firms are desperate for great people and we train more engineers than anyone else in the country. So there are some really interesting and nuanced ways that we can connect brands and students. It’s through those employer and placement opportunities, and shared synergies,” says Leech.
Awareness driveFor high profile graduate employers, partnerships with universities help brands remain top of mind with the best talent.
This is a serious area of focus for Marks & Spencer, which is concerned not with the number, but the quality of the applications to its graduate training schemes. Marketing, along with HR, consistently proves to be one of the most popular areas of study.
Future talent recruitment advisor, Hazel Bradford, measures the success of M&S’s university marketing by the number of good applications from candidates with appropriate, relevant degrees and quality work experience.
“We have on average 16 graduate programmes all in different areas, meaning that the courses and the sorts of universities we need to target are really quite varied,” explains Bradford.
“On average, we tend to go to 25 universities across the UK every year because we want to make sure we’re visible everywhere, though some graduate programmes require specialist university courses. We also work with an external research company to see how we perform on different university campuses and then target specific universities to attract a diverse mix of students.”
Marks & Spencer’s Vandwich went out on campus serving free lunches to studentsA crucial part of the graduate recruitment strategy is the retailer’s partnership with the university of Leeds, home to the M&S company archive dating back to 1884.
During the five years since the partnership began more than 6,000 students have used the archive, the study of which is also embedded into academic modules.
As part of the partnership, M&S provides work placements, volunteering experience and research opportunities for Leeds University students.
To date, the partnership has created more than 100 paid work opportunities for students and generated more than £1m in research funding for collaborative projects, including research into future international business models and gender diversity in the workplace.
Aside from its formal partnership with Leeds University, M&S also takes part in experiential activity to capture students’ attention.
Last year, the retailer took its ‘Vandwich’ – an ice cream van covered in M&S branding serving free lunches – to seven universities, following a nationwide student vote. The retailer ensured that the free lunches were served up with a healthy dose of career messaging.
Source: Marketing Week