Winning student preference in a competitive Higher Ed market

Megan Moser
Written by Megan Moser | November 2017


It’s that time of the year again. Graduating Victorian high school students have finalised their preference lists, and can only make last minute changes to their selections once their ATAR results are released in the new year[1].

For universities, this means waiting to find out how often (and how high) they appeared on students’ finalised preference lists and scrambling to fill places for the upcoming course year.

The Group of 8 can fall back on their reputations and rankings to guarantee their appearance at the top of many of these lists. For others, they must be more marketing and product development driventargeting niche student groups with clever offerings and value propositions, and more broadly targeting the masses with billboard, radio, and prime-time TV ads.

Although not all of these efforts are equal when it comes to cost and effectiveness, we do understand that every initiative that successfully recruits a student is important. Especially considering the gain in on-boarding even an extra 100 undergraduate students equates to an additional $4m in revenue over the three-year course of study[2].


(Source: Wongm’s Rail Gallery)

(Source: RMIT’s ATAR Anxiety video on YouTube)



(Source: Victoria University’s website)


Students want more than just a piece of paper

However, times are changing and many students are beginning to want more than just a piece of paper symbolising a university degree – even if that piece of paper comes from a prestigious university.

The growing prevalence of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in Australia by the G8 universities is making education more accessible without the need to pay exorbitant tuition fees. And even though MOOCs are often an effective mechanism for transitioning students into a degree program, they are not benefitting the Tier 2 universities since they’re not the ones facilitating them.

When it comes to the students who still feel the need to have a recognised qualification, they still have micro-credentials, certificates, and diplomas to choose from.

In light of this, Tier 2 universities are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult situation and must reinvigorate their brand strategy and go-to-market approach to continue appearing on the preference lists of Year 12 students. Although not much can be done to change their rankings this year, the series of questions below will help university marketing and recruitment teams gear up for next year’s Semester 1 intake.


Three questions to ponder

1. What type of students is the university currently attracting (e.g., ATAR score and preference combination, neighbourhood/high school, chosen course), and how can they attract more of them?

2. Which student segments are choosing alternative paths to higher education (e.g., TAFE, on the job training), and why? What would make these students choose a higher education offering instead?

3. What would it take for a Tier 2 university to stand out from their peers (e.g., free textbooks in the first year, complimentary one-on-one tutoring, product innovation)


Engagement and retention is just as important too

Although it is widely recognised that student acquisition is critical to a university’s success, retaining the students for the entirety of their degree, and encouraging further study after graduation, are also key considerations.

In our next GSG Insights edition, we’ll focus on the widespread issue of attrition in Australia, and offer some opinions on how universities can get students to stick it out for the entirety of their degree. Subscribe to our GSG Insights bulletin.




[1] (dates will differ slightly by state)

[2] Lifetime value is an estimation based on selected courses within each field of education, and should only be used as an indicative value of the overall market. The average price of a Bachelor’s degree in Management & Commerce was used for the calculations in this report since it has the largest share of enrolments.

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