If 2020 was anything to go by, 2021 is going to be a year of challenges. There’ll be personal challenges for sure, but the higher education sector, in general, is going to be facing some dramatic shifts. And whilst most of them won’t exactly be big news to you, it’s important we start framing these issues as opportunities for the higher education space to evolve in new and exciting directions. In this week’s post, we’ll be talking about how you can adapt your programme and communications strategies to stay one step ahead of the changing higher education landscape.

Let’s take a look at the key issues facing the industry in 2021 and how you can turn them into opportunities.


The pandemic has been hard on all of us. It’s forced most teaching programmes online and curtailed lab time for many. Educators are racing to find solutions that enable teaching to go on as close to normal as possible. But what’s most interesting about the digital revolution is how they’re affecting global market change. Whilst some course leaders are struggling with the switch, others are wondering why they weren’t online already. With more online courses, universities are going to see more applicants, hopefully from higher-quality candidates.

The growth in demand for individual university courses means there’s going to be a growth in sub-markets, too. Universities are likely to cater to this new demand with increasingly specialist courses that focus on enabling specific career paths for students. When it comes to comms, that means your targeting and value propositions are going to be tighter and more end-goal orientated. Expect to see closer collaboration with course leaders to help hammer out more concrete learning outcomes.


The stir caused by the Erasmus+ programme has already got a lot of us wondering what the future of higher education collaboration will look like across Europe. What’s clear is that most universities already have a precedent for working with countries outside the EU. In theory, we can expect to see similar working conditions affect relations between UK and EU institutions. Whatever the future might hold, it’s essential that universities capitalise on and consolidate existing relationships now. That means creating a communications architecture that reinforces the value you can offer partners despite our political environment. And when it comes to applications from EU prospects? All we can do is continue to offer the best level of service and support possible. It’s our job to make students feel welcome no matter where they’re from.

Peak China

The data is clear – China’s dominance as the leading international student market for EU universities is slowly dwindling. It is, however, becoming an increasingly attractive study option for the rest of the world. In short, more international students want to study there and fewer nationals want to leave. This has wide-ranging effects on the global market dynamic. Some institutions are looking to market growth in India as the next best thing, whilst others are seeking under-served markets in Africa and the Middle East.

Our advice? Focus on learners, not regions. Operating without localised knowledge on your team can be a scary prospect. However, English is now spoken at a useful level by one in every four people in the world and many of the conversations we’re having are global. It’s possible to operate without too much concern for localisation as long as your targeting is on point.

Climate Change

This one is last on the list because its impact will become progressively more important. However, even in 2021, we’re starting to see big changes as a result of the looming threat of climate change. Up to 17% of today’s students in the US are opting for courses that have some relationship to environmental concerns. That figure is even higher in institutions with a science focus. 

Ultimately, universities are going to continue leading the way with climate science as they have done for years. There is a growing expectation amongst students that their institutions address these issues in both their course content and brand approach. We’re expecting to see schools start to adopt climate change modules as part of general course curriculums, as well as bring the conversation to the forefront of communications efforts. It’s possible, given the urgency of the climate change situation, that your institution’s response will be the deciding factor in the battle for brand dominance. Now is the time to make sure your communications are in line.

One thing that’s certain is that there will be more challenges on the way in 2021. But we are sure that, on an industry-level at least, higher education is ready to meet them. What changes are looming large on your mind right now? Drop us an email and let us know what your team is facing. We’re always happy to help.