The international student and faculty ratio of your university accounts for 10% of your QS World University Ranking. That’s a significant chunk. Make no mistake, the diversity of your student population has a direct impact on your university standing. But that’s only one of a multitude of reasons why diversity should be a priority for your marketing team.

In 2019, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson called out universities failing to unlock the untapped potential of ethnic and socio-economic groups in the UK. “Things are moving in the right direction,” he said, “but they aren’t moving fast enough”. It’s clear that inclusivity and diversity continue to be one of our education sector’s biggest priorities and challenges. 

If you’re a university trying to hit enrolment KPIs, they should be a priority for you, too. Inclusive marketing opens up your courses to students that might not otherwise consider your university – or even a degree altogether. As well as a larger talent pool, inclusive marketing improves the quality of your campus population, bringing diverse insights and approaches to academic challenges. That’s precisely why it’s a specific category in your QS ranking. By reaching a larger audience, you create more space to grow your brand reputation and build crucial partnerships around the world.

Here at The Brand Education, diversity is a priority for our campaigns. Read on to learn our tips on how to do it well. 

Define your under-represented groups and set KPIs

The first step in your journey is setting your start point. You need to know what sort of groups aren’t represented in your student and faculty populations. To do that, you’ll need an effective framework. If your institution has a diversity and inclusion framework in place already, make sure you familiarise yourself with the strategic objectives. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to talk to your management about building one. 

We’ve found some excellent examples of frameworks below. Use them to help you build your own or discover what might be missing from your existing one. Each of the universities below tops ethnic and socio-economic inclusivity tables.

Review past campaigns to make sure the basics are covered

There are certain standards that we already expect from advertising – ideas that should be the new normal for marketers. However, we all have blind spots. Sometimes a systematic, conscientious review can help us to avoid mistakes in the future. Review your past campaigns and assess their content for inclusivity. Make sure the photos you use reflect the diversity you want to capture. Does your language use make everyone feel welcome? Are you clear about showing that your programmes are for everyone?

After going through this process, it’s not uncommon for universities to find (to their horror!) that their campaigns revolve around fit, white, cis-gendered young people. If this is you, don’t panic. Keep careful records of where you can improve and make sure you brand guidelines are updated accordingly.

Check out the WeAreInternational campaign by Westminster University for a great diversity benchmark to beat.

Make financing and flexibility a communications priority

When we talk about inclusion, gender and racial diversity issues often take top priority. However, financial factors are an enormous barrier to higher education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The most diverse universities do a fantastic job of making financial accessibility and health a central theme of their communications strategies. 

Take a look at the University of Hull’s Twitter feed. Even in times of crisis, they make sure that their student’s financial welfare takes centre stage. That, in part, is why the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) rated them the highest in the UK for socio-economic diversity.

Financial aid isn’t always an option for your institution. If that’s the case for you, focussing on course flexibility can also work. Platforms such as online courses and flexible study can open access to everyone from international students to busy professionals and single parents. Whether you choose to focus on financing or flexibility, make sure you set careful targets for your comms strategies and enrolment KPIs. 

Open yourself up to new ways of speaking

Language is a fundamental part of the way groups identify themselves. The way you talk – or the way your brand talks –  identifies you with certain groups and excludes others. You might be alienating certain economic or social groups without even knowing it, shutting your institution off from entire demographics.

Language often affects us in ways below a conscious level. As such, a systematic review of language inclusivity across your brand can be incredibly difficult. There are still things you can do, however, like improving specificity and being sensitive to linguistic needs. Remember that not everyone you speak to will have English as a first language, so speak in plain English without being patronising. 

Check out this fantastic guide to inclusive language from Marketing Partners to learn more. 

Remember that diversity starts at home 

Diversity and inclusion are all about being sensitive to different perspectives. If your team is homogenous to begin with, you could have a hard time empathising with ideas that are well outside your sphere of understanding. Make the effort to hire a team from a brand range of backgrounds. If this isn’t possible for you right now, work with your human resources department to put together a cultural sensitivity sounding board that can assess your work before it goes live. You can invite colleagues from across departments on your campus to help bring new perspectives to your marketing.

Here at The Brand Education, we work with some of the UK’s best universities to ensure their brands engage people from all walks of life. Get in touch today to find out a little more about how we do it.

For more examples of diverse institutions to emulate, take a look at the HEPI POLAR distribution for undergraduate admissions as well as the Times Higher Education ranking for social inclusion.