Higher Education Recruitment Stack 2023

Note: This is a shortened version of the complete HERS framework guide which accompanies the HERS framework. Click the link for the complete guide including 100+ insights.

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The Higher Education Recruitment Stack (HERS) framework is an overview to help higher education marketing and recruitment professionals develop a 360 degree strategy for recruiting and retaining students.

This tool segments the many considerations and points of contact potential students have with higher education institutions during their decision making process. It helps marketing and recruitment teams segment activities and, depending on their goals, identify which ones to prioritise.

The HERS framework can be used at any stage of the recruitment strategy development process to help the reader identify what is relevant for their own strategy.

A few disclaimers

This is the first version of the HERS framework. This is an evolving document. Marketers do not have to tick all the boxes. However, all successful campaigns will include a selection of the topics mentioned herein.

The HERS framework was developed with undergraduate level recruitment in mind. However, master level student recruitment teams will also find the stack useful.

The HERS framework is created from a recruitment and marketing perspective. It is recognised that different higher education departments will have different points of interaction with potential and current students.

Intended audience and limitations

The HERS framework is a resource for all types of education marketing and recruitment teams - from single person departments to multi-division operations. 

In tone it is written as a lexicon of education marketing terms and student considerations and does not go into detail on any one subject. Therefore, the framework and the accompanying guide is intended as an introduction to the topics listed not a detailed how-to.

For more detailed information on the featured topics, readers will need to conduct their own independent research. In doing so, they could explore the the rest of the Words On Blog content.

How to read the Stack

The HERS framework consists of six layers across the top. The three layers to the left (pictured in orange) represent performance objectives of marketing and recruitment teams, whilst the three layers to the right (blue) outline major considerations students have when selecting a degree.

The marketing and recruitment objectives are: Acquisition, Brand & Reputation, Satisfaction & Retention; the student consideration layers are: Academic Offer, Finances, and Alumni Support. 

These six layers are further supported by two additional layers pertaining to analytical and managerial considerations.

Each individual cell in the Stack represents a topic of the student recruitment and retention process marketing and recruitment teams should consider when developing a strategy. Bear in mind that not all topics need to be included, and different institutions will want to prioritise different aspects of the stack as appropriate.

Text within the cells in bold define the main topics, with the lighter font underneath detailing the sub-considerations of that topic. Some cells do not yet contain sub-considerations. This is an evolving document with all suggestions for improvement welcome.

When some topics are applicable to more than one layer, that topic has been made visibly larger to cover both layers. This does not mean we recommend that the topic should take prominence.

Crossover topics

Naturally, some crossover topics occur. For example, ‘Location’ is both a major recruitment selling point and consideration for potential students. As the guide is written from a marketing perspective, this topic is categorised under ‘Recruitment’, and ‘Satisfaction & Retention’.

Similarly, Rankings and Research are both excellent reputation building tools as well as deciding factors for students. Therefore, these have been categorised in both ‘Brand & Reputation’ and ‘Academic Offer’.

How to read the accompanying guide

An accompanying HERS framework guide has been produced as a collective guide to the HERS framework. It is intended that the reader refers to each topic’s corresponding section here when further explanation is needed. Therefore, some repetition may be evident if the reader reads the entire document from start to finish.

Without further ado, let’s explore the main sections of the Higher Education Recruitment Stack (HERS) framework.

Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing appears in the Acquisition, Satisfaction & Retention and Brand & Reputation layers. While all institutions will agree that digital marketing plays a vital role in their recruitment strategy, fewer can define which activity is meant to deliver which outcome with regards to the overall strategy. This is one of the main areas the HERS framework can help.

Offline Marketing

Student acquisition, satisfaction and retention are still highly personal activities. Face to face connections, brand building in the physical world, encouraging shared values, community building and shared ownership of the brand all play a huge role.

Topics to be considered at the strategy development stage, and which should always be planned in conjunction with corresponding digital marketing activities include:

Student Experience

From a marketing and recruitment perspective, the student experience encompasses any perceived interaction a student has with an institution before, during and after their degree. This means it will look different to every student. It also makes it one of the hardest deciding factors to get right and continually improve.

However, by showcasing the unique selling points of these common student experience needs university marketing and recruitment teams will go a long way to covering the basics in their communications.


Community plays a massive part in the student experience, but is such a nuanced topic in its own right it deserves a dedicated topic block in the HERS framework.

As Artificial Intelligence automates marketing processes, generates content (ideas) for us and begins to sound more human, the more valuable communities will become.

As a starting point we can define community as how connected students feel to a university in online and offline spaces. Community also overlaps with integration and shared ownership of brand values.


Where a university is situated is all-important for prospective students. It is the backdrop to which so many life events, memories and achievements will play out.

If the location gives the wrong first impression then it is likely they will not submit an application. 

If the surroundings become unappealing or do not meet expectations post-enrollment, students will seriously consider leaving university altogether.

Career Development

Still one of the biggest factors affecting young people’s decision to go to university - and why they stay at university - is the career prospects at the end of their degree.

But this does not mean that students want the same thing as they did 20 years ago. Career development and the attached expectations look a lot different for today’s potential students.

Satisfaction Survey

Student satisfaction surveys are an essential tool for higher education institutions to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs and services.

These surveys provide valuable feedback from students about their experiences. By analysing this data, institutions can identify areas where they need to focus their resources to enhance the student experience.

This information can be used to ensure that students have a positive experience and are more likely to remain enrolled.

By prioritising student satisfaction and continually improving the student experience, institutions can enhance their reputation and attract more applications in the future.


For today’s prospective university students, the support an institution offers them is a crucial factor in their decision-making process. They want to ensure that they have access to the resources and assistance they need to succeed in their degree and wider life.

Institutions that prioritise support services in (at least) the following areas have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining students who see university as an holistic opportunity for growth.

It should be noted that we respectfully recognise these topics deserve much more attention than we are giving them here. Full and well-researched strategies involving relevant organisations and student communities should be involved at every stage of development.

Sphere of Influence

Universities can leverage spheres of influence in the a number of areas to increase brand awareness and promote their reputation through word-of-mouth marketing. The full HERS framework guide goes into this, and many other topics, in more detail.

TV, Print & Radio

These channels are still essential for brand awareness in higher education marketing campaigns. Traditional mediums reach a wide audience, including prospective students and their parents, and can effectively communicate an institution's brand message.

Although digital channels are increasingly popular, a balanced marketing strategy that includes traditional channels can enhance overall campaign effectiveness and help institutions stand out in a crowded marketplace.


University rankings such as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings play a significant role in building brand awareness and trust for higher education institutions. They provide a benchmark for institutional performance and reputation, influencing the decision-making process for prospective students.

Rankings are one of the main crossover areas between the Operational Goal side of the stack on the left and the Student Concerns side on the right.

High rankings can enhance an institution's reputation, attract top talent, and increase funding opportunities. However, institutions must also ensure they are providing a high-quality education and addressing any weaknesses to maintain their position in the rankings.


Research is another area where marketing and recruitment teams have as much an invested interest as faculty members and prospective students.

Continued high-quality research is essential for attracting student applications and recruiting top academic talent in higher education.

Prospective students and faculty seek institutions with strong research programs, as it reflects an institution's commitment to academic excellence and innovation.

Robust research programs also attract funding opportunities, which can support scholarships and other resources for students.

By investing in research and promoting its impact, higher education institutions can enhance their reputation and attract top talent, ultimately benefiting students and faculty alike.


Press Public Relations is crucial for competitive higher education institutions to maintain their reputation, increase brand awareness, and attract prospective students and faculty.

Press relations are maintained through proactive and ongoing communication with journalists and media outlets. This includes regularly sharing news releases, responding promptly to media inquiries, and offering expert commentary on relevant topics.

Building and maintaining positive relationships with journalists can lead to increased coverage and positive exposure for the institution. Additionally, monitoring media coverage and addressing any inaccuracies or negative coverage can help to protect the institution's reputation.

While there are multiple PR tools universities can use to their advantage, the HERS framework focuses on three main ones:


Strategic partnerships with businesses, non-profit organisations, and other universities can help institutions to enhance their brand visibility, develop resources, and build their reputation. 

Collaborations can lead to joint research initiatives, fundraising opportunities, and internship placements, among other benefits.

This not only strengthens the institution's profile but also provides students with unique opportunities, making the university more attractive to prospective students and improving recruitment efforts.

Academic Offer

The academic offer and reputation of a university is everything. This aspect of the framework deserves full attention and is one of the few elements which should be considered as permanent to all communication strategies.

Academic Offer encompasses not only the courses offered, but also the quality of lecturers, accreditation and awards received, specialist schools, short courses, and opportunities for personal development.

A holistic learning experience can greatly enhance a student's education, and universities that offer a wide range of high-quality academic programs are more likely to attract top talent.

In today's competitive academic landscape, it is essential for universities to continually review and improve their academic offerings to ensure they meet the needs of prospective students. By emphasising the quality and diversity of their academic programs, universities can attract and retain top talent, and build a strong reputation for academic excellence.

Accreditations & Awards

Accreditations and awards are important factors for prospective students as they make decisions about which university to attend. They provide reassurance that the institution meets high standards of quality and that graduates will have a respected qualification.

Accreditation from professional bodies in a specific field can also be a valuable credential for students seeking employment in that industry.

Including information about accreditations and awards in marketing and recruitment materials can give potential students a sense of pride in the institution they are considering and help them feel confident in their decision to attend.

It can also help distinguish the university from competitors and provide a clear advantage in the crowded higher education marketplace.

Academic Staff

The academic staff is a critical component of a university's reputation as they are the driving force behind research and publications, which can significantly impact a university's professional reputation through digital and offline communication channels.

Academic staff can play a powerful yet commonly underutilised role in digital communications via their online presence and Faculty Generated Content (FGC).

Industry connections, expertise, and a solid track record of research and publications can help attract more students, as well as partnerships with industry leaders, which can improve job prospects for graduates.

Additionally, academic staff who are well-respected and well-known in their fields can add significant value to a university's reputation and brand awareness (think Astrophysicist Brian Cox from the University of Manchester or Poet Simon Armitage from University of Sheffield), which can, in turn, help attract more talented students and faculty.

Specialist Schools

Universities with focused programs and departments can provide a more comprehensive and specialised education. This can result in a higher quality of teaching and research, making the institution more attractive to prospective students. Additionally, specialised programs can create unique networking opportunities and increase employability after graduation.

Consider the following as a starting point:

  • MBA
  • Language
  • Early Stage Learning

Short courses

Modern universities should offer a lot more than just traditional degree programs.

Providing short courses is a great way for students to gain new skills and knowledge, or even try out a subject before committing to a longer program.

Short courses can be a valuable tool for universities to attract students and enhance the variety of marketing and recruitment efforts. By offering a range of courses, universities can create a deeper and more attractive offer, whilst demonstrating its expertise and commitment to lifelong learning.


What good is an excellent academic offer on paper if it isn’t backed up with first-class facilities? University services and facilities may not be a central content pillar for digital marketing plans, but they are a real crowd pleaser during events such as open days and tours.

Don’t forget, making noise about excellent university facilities has a crossover with promoting a positive student experience as well as a full student life.

Course Content

The popular misconception of student life is that many would rather stream content at home than attend lectures. As we know, this simply isn’t true. In fact, in 2018 Times Higher Education found that ‘the course, its curriculum, assessment type and structure’ was the number one deciding factor for UK students.


Finances can be a major concern for students, particularly first generation university students or those from a low-income background.

Higher education institutions must communicate tactfully and effectively the different options available to mitigate this barrier of entry. This may include scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and financial aid packages. 

Clear communication about financial options can help attract and support these students, promoting greater accessibility and equity in higher education.

It is important to consider the following main areas of financial concern when planning this topic into a wider strategy:

Course Fees

This could be the single most significant factor impacting a prospect’s choice of higher education institution.

It is essential for universities to communicate course fees clearly and effectively to prospective students in relevant contexts. Universities should consider placing course fees on their website and brochures where they can be easily found by interested parties.

Course fees should also be communicated during the application process, ideally with a breakdown of all associated costs, including tuition fees, accommodation, and any additional expenses that may be required.

Cost of living

As prices continue to rise the cost of living increases for everyone - students included.

It is even more important to include useful, responsible and above all reassuring financial advice in marketing and recruitment communications.

From the price of a pint in the student union to the cost of a weekly shop - students want to know and understand how far their money can realistically be stretched.

Accommodation Costs

While many universities do not directly operate their own student housing, it is nevertheless well received by students when marketing and recruitment teams can give them a rough figure of what accommodation will cost.

As mentioned above, the cost of living is rising sharply, making things difficult for students as well as many others. Consider and communicate any cost of living campaigns or special offers being run by either the university or accommodation providers.

Around half of students planning to study in the UK (49%) look for accommodation between November and February. Marketing and Recruitment teams should keep this in mind when planning their communication schedule. 

Payment Processing

This topic can often be a barrier of entry or point of friction, especially for international students. While it may not appear within an external communication strategy, it should nonetheless be considered by recruitment when communicating application and payment deadlines.

Course Materials

It’s always worth remembering that prospective students come from a variety of financial backgrounds. The cost of course materials can be a significant burden for some students, especially when combined with other expenses.

It’s a sensitive area, so should be handled with a light touch, but there are ways universities can address this concern in their communications.

Travel & Commuting

For many students living away from home is not a realistic option - be that due to their health, cultural practices or financial situation.

The National Student Accomodation survey for 2022 found that 13% of UK students lived at home while studying - a slight increase on 11% in 2021. Travel costs are clearly going to be a significant concern for many commuter students.

Marketing and recruitment teams can calm these worries by highlighting the various transportation options available, such as discounted public transit passes, shuttle services, or carpooling programs.

Administration Fees

Students don’t like surprises in their financial planning. If there is an administration fee to apply for a degree program this should be communicated upfront and with transparency.

Again, it is certainly not necessary to mention this at every juncture, but certainly in key conversations (fairs, visits) or first point of contact information (website pages, print prospectus).

Alumni Support

Alumni are a vital asset for universities in the student recruitment process. They act as brand ambassadors, showcasing the employability of graduates and demonstrating that the degree programs deliver on their promises.

By leveraging alumni, universities can create powerful digital marketing content and host engaging offline events.

Lifelong learning

It is becoming increasingly clear in higher education circles that students and alumni want a university which grows with them. That means during their degree course and in the world of work as well.

By showing a university is prepared to give time and resources to their alumni - teaching opportunities, subscription discounts, and networking events - they immediately stand out in the further education landscape.

Career support

Similar to lifelong learning, today's alumni want to know their alma mater is there for them at every stage of their career. Plenty of focus is put on the start of the career - internships, placements - and rightly so, but older alumni are crying out for a new kind of experience.

Alumni Visibility

When it comes to student recruitment and retention, the visibility of alumni can be a powerful tool. Prospective students are often swayed by the success stories of graduates and the potential for career opportunities.

Current students also benefit from seeing the tangible outcomes of their degree programs through the achievements of alumni. By integrating alumni into a communications strategy, universities can make them more visible to current and prospective students, enhancing the overall student experience.

Analytics & Insights

This part of the HERS framework should be looked at as separate from what a prospective student finds important in a university. This is the area of the stack where we look in some detail at the types of analytics available to marketers and why they should be integrated.

Analytics and insights are essential for measuring the effectiveness of campaigns, optimising strategies and identifying areas for improvement. By collecting and analysing data, teams can track the behaviour of prospective students, determine which channels are most effective, and adjust tactics accordingly.

Website Analytics

Website analytics are essential for higher education marketing as they provide insight into the behaviour and preferences of website visitors, allowing marketing teams to better understand their audience and tailor their strategies accordingly.

It's important to regularly consult website analytics, ideally on a weekly or monthly basis, to ensure that marketing efforts are on track and to identify areas for improvement. A report should be created for management on a regular basis, such as monthly or quarterly, to showcase the impact of marketing efforts and provide insight into future strategies.

Social Media Analytics

Social media platforms have become an increasingly important tool for higher education recruiting, and social media analytics are a key component of any effective strategy. Social media analytics allow marketers to track the performance of their content, gain insights into their audience, and make data-driven decisions about future content.

Newsletter Analytics

Newsletter analytics are a vital tool for education marketing and recruitment teams. Newsletters are an effective way to reach target audiences as they have already opted in to receive communications.

Each recipient is valuable and must be kept engaged with relevant content. With newsletter analytics, teams can plan and create content that matches recipients' needs and preferences while ensuring they only receive the emails they want. Segmentation is key, and analytics help to ensure that recipients are accurately segmented based on their interests and behaviours.

Link Tracking

Link tracking services such as Bitly, Google Analytics, and HubSpot can provide valuable information on how prospective students interact with a university's online content.

This data can help inform future content decisions and provide insights into the effectiveness of current marketing strategies.

PR Clipping Tool

Clipping tools are software platforms that help organisations monitor their media coverage and track the success of their press campaigns. They do this by collecting and analysing media mentions across print, broadcast, and online channels.

These tools allow marketers to track key metrics like reach, frequency, and tone of coverage. They can also help identify which stories are resonating with audiences and what topics are being covered by competitors. This information can then be used to adjust and improve future press campaigns, ensuring that efforts are focused on the most effective tactics.

Paid Social Media Ads Analytics

No decision should be made regarding paid social media advertising without first looking at the relevant analytics. Tracking engagement, conversions, and the cost-effectiveness of campaigns enables marketers to make informed decisions about their activities. This is another area of the stack where we go into some detail in the accompanying HERS framework guide.

Google Ads Analytics

Similar to paid social media analytics, Google Ads analytics are important for education marketers to make better SEM decisions because they provide valuable insights into how their ads are performing, including click-through rates, conversion rates, and return on investment (ROI). These insights can be used to optimise ad campaigns, including ad copy, targeting, and bidding strategies.


As well as the topics listed throughout the HERS framework so far, there are also more unseen forces at play which can have an effect on student recruitment and retention. Namely, how marketing and recruitment staff feel in their positions and places of work. This is where we explore that in a little more detail. We talk about:

  • Team Development
  • Goal Setting
  • KPI Setting


The HERS framework is a continual work in progress where feedback, case studies, uses for the Stack and improvements are always welcome.

The latest version of the HERS framework, along with a growing number of higher education marketing and recruitment articles, can always be found on the Words On Blog higher education marketing website.

We hope you find these insights and the HERS framework will be a valuable resource for education marketing professionals around the world as they endeavour to create better strategies and improve the global student experience.

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