University market research

Strategic insights for higher education institutions (HEIs) and further education institutions (FEIs)


The higher education and further education sectors have been undergoing unprecedented changes for years, such as increases in competition, accountability, student expectations, global mobility, and technological developments.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demanded even more drastic action and rapid strategy decisions by education institutions across the globe. Teaching is being overhauled, at least for the short-term, while current and prospective learners reassess their plans, and the sector has the potential to lose billions in revenue.

However, we know that information and insight have the power to cut through uncertainty and are already working with education organisations to research the ever-changing higher education landscape, obtain diverse stakeholder perspectives, and inform urgent decisions.

Experts in university market research

Having delivered university market research for almost 20 years, we understand the unique challenges facing higher and further education institutions and their students, staff and other stakeholders. We provide professional consultancy and market research in higher education. We offer a range of services to universities and further education institutions, including:

Research into new courses and qualifications

Launching a new course is a big investment. Shift Learning have conducted numerous projects assisting institutions in testing ideas for new courses at undergraduate and post-graduate level. These projects have included desk research and competitor analysis alongside primary research with potential students, careers advisors, employers and international agents, both in the UK and internationally.

Research into teaching and learning and support services

Once students are enrolled, it is important that they are fully supported to make the most out of their course, leaving satisfied and fulfilled. Shift Learning can help universities, higher and further education institutions to identify both where support is most needed and how it is performing currently, using a range of methodologies, both qualitative and quantitative.

Market research with students

Ensuring the satisfaction of students on graduation has never been more important to universities than it is now, with league tables and the new TEF in the UK placing additional emphasis on the all-important National Student Survey (NSS). Shift Learning have developed methodologies to help identify the factors which might impact most strongly on NSS satisfaction scores to help institutions find solutions which really make a difference in the short and long-term.

Alumni surveys

Maintaining good alumni relations can have a number of benefits for universities and other higher education institutions. Shift Learning helps institutions understand the needs and attitudes of their alumni, create more compelling communications / services and deepen alumni involvement. We conduct alumni surveys and other research, including techniques such as cluster analysis to help segment alumni effectively and create strongly targeted engagement strategies.

Evaluating approaches to EDI and widening participation

Shift Learning are strongly supportive of initiatives to widen participation and strengthen diversity in higher education. We can help institutions evaluate and improve current initiatives, using primary research or investigation of the institution’s own datasets using a range of statistical methods.

Brand and communications research, including brand tracking

In a more competitive environment, a university’s brand has never been more important. Investment in new branding is expensive and time consuming. Recent news stories have illustrated clearly the need for any changes to brand to be thoroughly tested prior to launch. Shift Learning has experience in both qualitative evaluations of brand and rigorous quantitative work such as brand tracking, brand perception research and the creation of perceptual maps.

We are also expert in user experience research, enabling you to receive feedback on websites or other digital communications tools, so essential in student recruitment.

We also have a field research team, who can research at events such as open days.

Pricing and business model research

With increasing differentiation in university fees looking likely, understanding potential responses to price is an increasingly important area. Shift Learning are able to investigate this complex area using a variety of techniques.

Environmental analysis, PEST analysis and strategic support

Shift Learning can act as a support to higher education institutions in the development of medium term strategic plans through support in strategy development, workshopping and environmental analysis via desk research.

Consultancy for campus development

New buildings and improvements to estates are key to the strategic plans of many universities and HEIs. Shift Learning can use innovative research techniques to help higher institutions really understand how learners and staff interact with their environment, isolating the factors which really impact on staff and student experience.

Staff consultations and staff policy consultations

Obtaining the support of staff to changes is important. Shift Learning has also conducted research with university staff in support of the development of new staff policies and strategies, aiming to help institutions deliver these changes smoothly and effectively.