International Higher Education

How TEF influences student decision-making: looking at data

When the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was first launched by the British government in June 2017, one of its main objectives was to guide prospective students in making sound decisions about where to study based on teaching quality and student outcomes. Over a year later, it’s questionable whether prospective students are actually using the TEF in this way.

Observing Real-time Data

By utilising Hotcourses Group’s real-time Insights tool, which tracks data from 69 million visitors each year, we’re able to observe the researching trends of prospective students looking at TEF-rated UK institutions across 12+ international and domestic student-facing sites. While these trends may be influenced by a number of external factors, they nonetheless offer an interesting glimpse into user behaviour.

Key Trends

First, our data team looked at early-sign key trends among UK and India-based users, taken between September 2016 and September 2017. Interest from UK students saw small percentage changes with a 2% increase in gold-rated institutions and a drop of less than 2.03% in both silver and bronze-rated institutions. This suggests the launch of the TEF had very little impact, if any, on domestic prospective student behaviour.  The most notable change over this period came from researching Indian students with an 8.19% increase for gold-rated institutions. Interest from India in silver and bronze-rated institutions decreased respectively to around -4%.

Demand from India and UK

Data set taken from September 2016 to September 2017.

The data was then rerun to compare the period 1 July 2016 – 30 April 2017 (pre-TEF) to 1 July 2017 – 20 April 2018 (post-TEF). Looking at most-popular source markets (including UK, Brazil & India), here are the key trends:

  • Searches from UK users for TEF-ranked institutions saw minimal percentage changes with a 0.97% increase for gold-rated institutions.
  • Interestingly, over this period traffic coming from India for gold-rated institutions dropped to 3.14% (compared to 8% shown in previous data-set).
  • Traffic from India for silver and bronze-rated institutions showed a drop to -2.08% and -1.06%, respectively.
  • Searches from Brazil were a bit more pronounced with a 7.58% increase in gold-rated institutions, a -10.12% decrease in silver-rated institutions and a 2.54% increase in bronze-rated institutions.
  • Looking at interest in gold-rated institutions across 25 top source countries, Venezuela (+7.5%) and Russia (+7%) both saw increases, alongside Brazil.
  • Big decreases for silver-rated institutions can be seen from Thailand (-9.2%), Brazil (-10.1%) and Turkey (-10.1%).
  • China shows somewhat erratic trends with am 18.8% increase for silver-rated institutions and drops both in gold and bronze-rated institutions (note: China is a low-volume source country with 13, 000 users between July 2017 and April 2018, compared to 107, 000 users from Brazil).

Data sets

Above 2 data sets are comparisons from periods: 01/07/2016-30/04/2017 (pre-TEF) and 01/07/2017-20/04/2018 (post-TEF).

What does this all mean?

There is little indication from these datasets that TEF has had a noteworthy impact on UK students. From an international perspective, search results indicate a lack of consistency across the board, which may mean that TEF is not top-of-mind in the student decision-making process. The increases in TEF gold searches from Brazil are noteworthy, as are increases from over South and Central American countries.

This could change over time, but without a strategic marketing drive, it’s unlikely to take precedence over more recognised brands such as the Russell Group.

Jonah Duffin, Chief Marketing Officer of Hotcourses Group, believes that the TEF is little known outside the sector, not currently student-facing and predominantly used as an internal measure. He says: “Students, parents, teachers and other influences still aspire to the Russell Group, which can be described as a consumer brand. Unless the TEF transforms itself into a student-facing brand that can easily communicate the benefits of going to a TEF gold institute, TEF will continue to have little impact.”

What does this mean for institutions?

While TEF as a brand has a long way to go, institutions should be driving their own marketing efforts to recruit students. Hotcourses Group’s Insights tool allows institutions to develop their marketing and recruitment, as well as their key messages based on real-time data. Some of the trends trackable by the tool include: where demand is coming from, which subjects are being searched, and which competitors are popular in searches. In conclusion, Jonah advises institutions to create their own narratives and brand stories.

To find out more about the International Insights Tool, click here

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