news & articles

Disrupting the Case for Support

Feb 04, 2019

A Case for Support is an oft-used tool in fundraising to set out your stall; its purpose to communicate the ‘Why’ of your campaign. It’s a working document designed as a group/workshop exercise to provoke discussion, tease out the campaign’s identity and find its most compelling elements. It constantly evolves and very, very rarely ever reaches a stage of print, design and publishing.

It’s a critical exercise to ensure robust central campaign communications. Whether you’re a Vice-Chancellor, a Major Gifts Fundraiser or a Regular Giving Officer, you must be fluent in the unique and compelling reasons to give to your campaign – and your Case is your script.

Why write a Case for Support? Because that’s what you do for a campaign. But let us not fall into the ‘because we’ve always done it that way’ trap.

Disruption’ is the mot-du-jour, and is being (mostly) effectively applied to every area of technology, business, consultancy, marketing and communications. It’s the idea that by breaking the mould and seeing things differently in some small way, major shifts can occur.

When we ‘disrupt’ the traditional idea of a Case for Support, what happens? Well, I propose three disruptions:

Number One: An awareness of your target audience is crucial, but one size will never fit all. My take on it is that organisations get too hung up on appealing to multiple audiences, trying to second-guess what internal and external stakeholders, donors, trusts and foundations – each with a wide variety of interests, criteria, personal preference, and motives for giving – want to hear. By writing it for everybody it runs the risk of being bland and full of waffle, engaging nobody and diluting the message.

Approaching your Case from an altered perspective can revolutionise the output. By focusing on core messages that will resonate with any human being on a fundamental and emotional level, you cut to the chase. Get above the detail. Focus on the idea that whether a reader is a donor, a stakeholder, a trust or a foundation, they are above all a person with an exciting opportunity to truly make a difference. Paint them a picture of what their involvement could help achieve. Everyone wants to be part of something successful.

Of course, if you are approaching a major donor, then careful thought needs to be given around the best way to tailor those conversations. A potentially large gift deserves a customised approach for sure, but a resonant Case remains your starting point – your central script.

Number Two: You are not the best person to write your Case. No matter how good you are at it, writing a Case in-house is risky. It will not benefit from the perspective of an external eye, and too often it can get bogged down in detail or restricted by internal politics. In more extreme cases, the same old hackneyed internal jargon and clichés can be wheeled out unchallenged.

Working in collaboration with you, an external writer who is trained in the art and science of communication can help you tease out the golden messages at the core of your campaign, and then amplify them. Sometimes they do this by asking provocative questions and challenging the norm, and other times simply by listening, observing and absorbing.

Number Three: A Case for Support doesn’t have to ‘look’ like a Case for Support. At Halpin we believe that your Case for Support is better regarded as a Campaign Toolkit, comprising valuable elements such as an elevator pitch, a precis and longer-form narrative – each of which can be read and understood by absolutely anyone. These elements have the added bonus of being able to be used across multiple channels for multiple reasons (think social media posts, video scripts, posters, funding bids…).

As with everything else in life, balance is key. A little light-touch disruption here and there, blended with ‘tried-and-tested’ campaign communication techniques can garner surprising results.

Olivia Dunn is Head of Marketing & Communications for Halpin – a management consultancy for the higher education sector. We have written successful Cases for Support and Campaign Toolkits for a wide range of institutions.

Brexit + Trump = Time for Turbo-Charged Alumni Relations

Feb 01, 2019

Back in November 2016, Halpin Joint CEO Susie Hills wrote this piece, and it remains as relevant now as it was then. The smartest institutions are connecting and engaging with their international community in a meaningful and long-term way as an insurance policy against Brexit.

The winds of political and economic change are creating stormy weather for higher education institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. Both Brexit and the election of Trump have exposed deep divisions within our societies: our higher education institutions are seen to be part of the ‘privileged establishment’ for which many in our society are expressing their discontent. In both cases university staff and graduates were predominantly on the losing side of the vote, yet in the face of this divide, our universities must play their part in helping to bring communities together and tackling disadvantage.

In times of such powerful and disruptive change, the relationship an institution has with its alumni is more important than ever. In fact, it is time for turbo-charged alumni relations. Institutions must develop deep and meaningful engagement with their alumni, honorary graduates, and key stakeholders if we are to unite our divided communities and secure the future of our valued institutions.

Let’s look at the issue of our divided communities first. How can alumni relations help? You can create an alumni community that:

  • Volunteers within their local community, alongside your students, with your support (and in your name),
  • Encourages disadvantaged youth to consider going to university,
  • Helps recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds,
  • Supports research which tackles issues of disadvantage,
  • Offers students (particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds) internships and work placements (particularly in community organisations, charities, and NGOs),
  • Is honoured for the work they do in the community by your institution – thus setting powerful examples for your students and graduates,
  • Is joined by honorary graduates from your community – those who play their part in healing division and bringing about change, honoured in front of your graduating class (inspiring them to go and follow that example),
  • Is celebrated for the impact they have through your PR and communications.

Imagine the impact of such a community!

Secondly, let’s consider the future health of our institutions. We are facing a changing landscape for research funding. In the UK, our European research funding (and the resulting collaboration with European universities) looks likely to cease with no long-term guarantees as to how this funding will be replaced. In the USA, the Republicans have made no clear commitments to research funding.

Alongside this, the top concern of voters was immigration in both countries. This presents real risk to the recruitment and retention of international staff and students. Imagine how your institution would change if you lost 10, 20, 30% of your international staff and students. What would the financial implications be? What would happen to your reputation? To your student experience?

So, how can alumni relations help? By becoming active advocates:

  • Ensure your alumni are briefed on how political and legislative changes affect your work. Provide them with messaging. Invite them to lobby on your behalf and use their networks to help you reach those you need to talk to.
  • Take your institution to Parliament with events at the House of Commons or House of Lords (in the UK) or to Congress with events at the Senate or House of Representatives (in the US). Ask your alumni MPs and Peers (in the UK) and Senators and Representatives (in the US) to host networking events on topics of concern.
  • Reach your wider alumni community through your e-comms and your magazine – use these to highlight issues of concern. Universities should understand their alumni – especially preferences on communication, events, and other ways to connect.
  • Consider the use of petitions and other social media means to deliver your messages. Recruit social media alumni volunteers to assist you to get out your messages.

All this uncertainty has made one thing certain: the leadership of our nations will need expert insight and advice, strong governance, and the ability to access those in influential positions. Through alumni communities, we can find the depth and breadth of expertise they will need. We can offer them pathfinders, influencers, and policy makers.

  • Research your alumni in influential positions; identify those who can help in highly strategic ways.
  • Build up a list of strategic volunteering opportunities – advisory boards, governing bodies, leadership mentors.
  • Actively recruit the most senior, most influential (and affluent) alumni you can to fill these volunteering opportunities.
  • Don’t stop at your alumni. Look beyond into the wider community and identify those who might become your champions.
  • Consider your honorary grad nominations process. Who might you honour who could help you address the challenges you face and who has natural synergy with your areas of research?

Imagine the power of such a cadre of experts!

Investment in alumni relations is timelier and more important than ever before. It really can no longer be ‘just about fundraising’. Alumni can play a vital role in uniting divided communities and helping institutions flourish in these challenging times.

Susie Hills is Joint CEO of Halpin Partnership, the home of experts in higher education.

Case Study - Cancer Research UK, Case for Support Development

Jan 18, 2019

Our flagship multi-partner Case for Support project required us to develop a narrative for a £150m cancer research centre campaign being undertaken by Cancer Research UK alongside their partners the University of Manchester and Christie NHS Trust.

Over a short and intensive period of interviews with key stakeholders including world-class scientists and senior leadership (some with very strong views) we extracted key messages and identified common themes. These themes formed the core of the narrative, which we developed into a campaign ‘toolkit’ - elements of which could be used in a wide variety of ways for different audiences.

Outcomes

  • Secured multi-partner participation in campaign planning
  • Developed and refined messaging in collaboration with ‘on the ground’ staff
  • Raised the profile of the campaign across institutions
  • A compelling and resonant Case for Support ‘toolkit’

Winning the dash to the UCAS deadline (and the race to the summer)

Jan 14, 2019

The UCAS deadline provides an intense pressure point for marketing and admissions teams – and this year the stakes are high. Fewer 18-year-olds, intense competition, the Augar review, political uncertainty…

The good news is that whilst there has to be a final dash towards the UCAS deadline, the race isn’t necessarily won or lost on that date.

At this pressured time of year, you can position yourselves to be in pole position for the next few months by taking a few simple steps:

Clear internal communications

Your internal ‘sponsors’ – senior leadership and governing bodies – will be focusing hard on the application numbers and may dig into the detail of the performance of any media campaigns or other marketing. Maintain their confidence through clear and consistent internal communications. Be open about your KPIs and your progress. If applications are down there is no point in hiding from disappointing results or delaying this news. It will be common across the sector.

True team play

This is no time for silo working – you and your colleagues in admissions should be working closely day-to-day. Constantly reviewing application statistics so your team can focus on courses or departments need attention (and budget). Then share your projections and action plans with the finance team and senior leadership. Having ‘live’ data to hand and a team focused on action is vital.

Showcase your heroes

Promote a mix of your hero courses (those for which you are known and have a great reputation, even if your applications to those are high – your other courses should still benefit from the brand awareness) and those where you have potential to improve your market share. Try to focus on what the market wants, rather than only those courses that are in desperate need of attention.

Flex your open day muscles – hard

Work your open day database as hard as you can. Send personalised communications and retarget by subject of interest – both to those that visited you, as well as those who didn’t turn up.

Put yourself in their shoes. What will your target year 13s be thinking about over the next 6 weeks? The chances are that they are just finishing their mock exams and needing to relax a little after the stresses of revision. The UCAS deadline and university choices are unlikely to be top of their list. So create and share content which is both useful and relevant to your target audiences; short-form video is best to capture limited attention spans.

And remember that it’s not all over on 15th January. We are expecting the proportion of applicants applying after the Jan 15th deadline to continue to rise; partly because some may wait to understand any potential impacts of the Augur funding review on their tuition fees for 2019 and beyond, partly because applicants know that it is a buyer’s market and they no longer need to play by the rules to win a university place. So plans to attract and engage this target segment after Jan 15th are equally important.

And even your Jan 15th applicants are unlikely to make their final choice until they’ve heard back from all their universities. So you can continue to influence this decision for some months yet; make sure you have retargeting and conversion activity plans ready to launch.

And then there is Clearing…. It’s never too early to start planning the media and messages for your pre-Clearing and Clearing campaigns. You need to bid for the premium inventory from UCAS this month and creating engaging and ‘stand-out’ content to share across your paid, owned and earned channels takes time.

If you need support with your marketing strategy – student journey, recruitment, conversions, programme portfolio review or your student experience, NSS and VFM contact the Halpin team.

Susie Hills is Joint CEO and co-founder of Halpin Partnership – the home of HE experts.

Halpin announces latest addition to their growing team of experts

Jan 14, 2019

Halpin is delighted to announce the appointment of Rachel Killian as Senior Consultant.

Rachel is a higher education specialist with 20 years of marketing and recruitment experience gained in both university and agency settings. She applies the principles of marketing to the practicalities of student recruitment, employer branding and youth marketing. Rachel joins Halpin from people management experts Penna where she led their specialist higher education team, supporting universities with student marketing and talent attraction strategies.

Rachel held a range of marketing roles over a ten-year period at the University of Warwick as well as two more years as Director of Marketing at Warwick Business School leading on marketing strategy. In 2012 Rachel moved to 360 Education, where her time was divided between media strategy and planning, research and consultancy projects.

Halpin Joint CEO and co-founder Susie Hills says, “Rachel is an important, strategic addition to our team. Her depth of knowledge and experience in student marcomms and recruitment is second-to-none. This is an exciting new business area for us and Rachel’s appointment means we can offer current and future clients the level of expertise they need across student marcomms and recruitment.”

Rachel joins Halpin at the beginning of February 2019.

Halpin is the home of experts in higher education management consultancy, specialising in university governance, fundraising, strategy and students.

Unconditional offers. How to discount your reputation.

Dec 12, 2018

The news from UCAS that over a third of students in England, Wales & Northern Ireland received an unconditional offer in the last cycle reminds us how many universities are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

What started off in the Midlands a few years ago has now spread like wildfire across the country. It’s particularly galling to me as a marketeer that this is being blamed on ‘marketisation’ when it’s the very opposite of what a decent marketer would recommend. Strong brands do not discount. Weak brands discount before they wither and die.

On the high street, department stores have suffered the most. In trying to be all things to all, they end up having no particular strengths at all. So it is with many universities, who pose as Russell Group manqués, but come recruitment season behave like DFS.

Go to the discussion boards on The Student Room and you’ll see how prospective students talk about universities that offer unconditional offers. They perceive them as weak and desperate, a last resort. A minority might find them attractive, but the majority respect those that stand firm on conditional offers and work to achieve the required standards. Who wants to be associated with a weak brand?

Unconditional offers undermine all the work the University is doing elsewhere to boost its reputation and its ranking. What they say to students is that the university is not strong enough to compete on quality, so it has to hoist the equivalent of a permanent SALE! sign up on its website, contradicting everything else it is doing to do to boost its reputation.

You can’t have it both ways. You are either a quality institution with a published tariff or you’re cheap and cheerful and will do anything to make a sale. The former will survive and prosper. The latter will go to the wall.

The current demographic dip is being blamed by many but it’s small and not going to last much longer. It’s time to strengthen your student proposition, not get into an unwinnable discounting war. By communicating what makes your university distinctive, by delivering what your particular student customers really value, by focusing on the 20% of your programmes that contribute 80% of your income, and by divesting the really weak.

Playing to your strengths is invariably a winning strategy. Unconditional offers discount your reputation. They’re a zero-sum game and nobody wins in a zero-sum game.

David Miller is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin Partnership – a leading higher education management consultancy. Follow us on LinkedIn for more insight, news and comment.

Value for money in HE – denial is not an option

Nov 14, 2018

The recent report by the House of Commons Education Committee ‘Value for money in higher education’ offers vital insight into the prevailing winds in HE, and how the concept of value for money for students is going to shape universities over the coming years.

So what is the report signalling, and what should universities be doing right now?

Here are some of the key messages in the report, and some suggestions as to how you might act now to reshape your plans for 2018/19 and beyond.

Key message 1: The post-18 education review will be used as an opportunity to reshape the sector, and the regulator will be an active force in this process.

“We encourage the post-18 education and funding review to be brave in its approach, to design a holistic funding model which supports a wider range of pathways and prioritises support for disadvantaged students. The Government must take this opportunity to signal a move away from the traditional linear approach which currently dominates. The future of higher education should be more inclusive, more skills-based and more focused on value for money for students.”

The interesting word here is ‘brave’. Institutions might want to take this concept into their senior leadership planning process and ask, “How can we be braver and bolder in what we offer to students?” Inclusivity and value for money for students should be a litmus test for all areas of university ‘business’.

*“Higher education is still not as accessible as it should be, and some institutions are failing in their efforts to admit a more diverse range of students.”

“Higher education institutions spend a vast amount of public money on access and participation. The results of this expenditure are not always clear to see. There must be transparency on what they are investing in, a greater focus on outcomes for students and a rigorous evaluation process.”*

Honesty is key here, not external spin. Are you doing enough to admit a more diverse range of students? What is really working? Are you being honest as to the results of your current Widening Participation programmes?

The reality is that unless institutions do more of their own volition they will be pushed hard to do so through the regulator and funding.

“In response to the Director of Fair Access’s new proposals we expect to see institutions focusing their efforts on value for money for the most disadvantaged students and facing penalties if sufficient progress is not made.”

Now is the time to commission a comprehensive review of your Widening Participation expenditure, the programmes you run and the true impact of those programmes. This issue ought to be on your risk register and an agenda item on your next Council meeting.

Key message 2: Funding is going to change and there is a consensus that grants and means-tested loans should be brought back.

*“The Government must urgently address the decline in part-time and mature students and re-introduce a system of maintenance grants for the most disadvantaged students.”

“Based on the overwhelming evidence we have heard during the inquiry, we recommend that the Government return to the pre-2016 system and reinstate the means-tested system of loans and maintenance grants.”*

We know that the funding model is going to change but we don’t know how. Recent leaks point to £6.5-7.5k. There has been talk and then rejection of a cap on numbers and a suggestion that, depending how the government will account for student loans, there could be funding to subsidise some subjects. Now we add into the mix means-tested loans and maintenance grants. There are many variables to model but it’s vital that finance and admissions teams model different scenarios asap. Student fees should be a flashing red light on your risk register.

Key message 3: Degree apprenticeships are vital to UK PLC and should be offered by all universities.

“Higher education must play a more significant role in meeting this country’s skills needs and preparing students for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Degree apprenticeships are crucial to filling skills gaps and boosting this country’s productivity.”

All higher education institutions should offer degree apprenticeships, and we encourage students from all backgrounds to undertake them. We recommend that the Office for Students demonstrates its support for them by allocating a significant portion of its widening access funding to the expansion of degree apprenticeships specifically for disadvantaged students.”

Cue a review of your degree apprenticeship offer, and a clear strategy as to how you are going to grow degree apprenticeship numbers and widely publicise your offer.

Key message 4: VC and senior management pay must be constrained by the regulator.

*“Excessive salaries of Vice-Chancellors are disconnected from a value for money offer for students. The Office for Students must take a much firmer stance on senior management remuneration and not be afraid to intervene, especially when institutions pay their Vice-Chancellor more than eight times the average staff salary.”

“Unjustifiably high pay for senior management in higher education has become the norm rather than the exception and does not represent value for money for students or the taxpayer.

“The current system of self-regulation for senior management pay is totally unacceptable. We call for the Office for Students to publish strict criteria for universities on acceptable levels of pay that could be linked to average staff pay, performance and other measures that the Office for Students sees fit. The Office for Students should take swift action if this is not the case.”*

A governance review of your remuneration policies and practices is an urgent necessity. Compliance with CUC should be seen as the minimum. Going further and faster will put you in a good position on this issue. Ensure your practices go beyond VC pay as the focus has widened to include senior management. Ensure your policies and practices are transparent and that you openly report on senior pay.

Key message 5: The 3-year degree model isn’t delivering and the 2-year accelerated degree is coming up fast as an preferred option.

*“Universities must move away from a linear approach and embrace more flexible types of learning…. Only through a step away from the rigid, traditional three-year undergraduate study approach can universities ensure they are open to students from all backgrounds.”

“More flexible approaches to higher education should be supplemented by the option for undergraduates of studying for two-year accelerated degrees alongside the traditional three-year model. The post-18 review should investigate potential funding models to clarify the benefits and costs of accelerated degrees, taking into account fees, living costs and post-study earnings.”*

“The introduction of two-year degrees must not create a two-tier system where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are encouraged to take them on the basis of cost. The Government’s review of higher education should include an impact assessment of how accelerated degrees will affect disadvantaged students.”

The signals are clear. If you are not currently modelling a 2-year degree offer now is the time to do so. Also it’s vital to be clear as the value of your 3-year model and what it can offer over and above a 2-year model – see comments below on work experience for example.

Key message 6: TEF should more directly inform student choice and preparation for work should be a focus.

*“We look forward to the independent review of TEF and recommend that it focuses on how the exercise is used by students to inform and improve choice. The review must include an assessment of how TEF is used in post-16 careers advice. For the TEF to improve value for money for students it must play a more significant role in the decision-making process of applicants.”

“There should also be a greater focus on the extent to which universities prepare their students for work in the TEF criteria.”*

To some degree this is a ‘wait and see what the outcomes of the TEF review are’. However, there are some obvious actions you can take now. This includes the information you provide on TEF to prospective students and the information you offer in terms of how you prepare your students for the work – see comments below on work experience and labour market returns.

Key message 7: T-levels and BTECs must be accepted and more support offered to students with these qualifications.

“The implementation of T-Level qualifications from 2020 could offer improved access to university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Government should engage with universities and UCAS in order to determine an appropriate tariff weighting prior to the introduction of T-levels. We also encourage universities to continue to accept BTECs and put in place additional academic and pastoral support to these students throughout their studies.”

How well do BTEC students progress at your institution? Are you doing enough to support them? The Transforming Transitions project at the University of Exeter offers helpful insight into BTEC progression and the support requirements of such students.

Key message 8: Work experience must be the norm.

“We recommend that universities look to include significant periods of work experience within undergraduate degree courses. This could be a year in industry, or shorter placements with local employers. We believe that practical experience of the workplace must become the norm in degrees and an integral part of making students ‘work ready’.”

How many of your students have access to work placements? How can you increase that %? Are you building it into courses? How can you build relationships with employers to provide a wider range of options? Do you have the staffing and resources needed to increase the focus on this area? Are your teaching staff well-informed as to where their students go on to work? Do they have relationships with employers? A work experience action plan should be in place to answer these questions and clear information provided to prospective and current students.

Key message 9: Universities must be clear as to the ‘labour market returns’ for their courses.

“Better information on graduate outcomes must lead to a greater focus in higher education on outputs and outcomes. Higher education institutions must be more transparent about the labour market returns of their courses. This is not simply a measure of graduate earnings but of appropriate professional graduate-level and skilled employment destinations. We recommend that the Office for Students instructs all providers to be transparent about levels of graduate employment and secure this through funding agreements.”

Review your graduate employability and earnings data by course. Understand what gaps you have and put in place a plan to improve the quality of your employability data. Consider how best to communicate employability information by subject area. Review how this will be interpreted by applicants and consider how you can contextualise that information. Whatever you do, don’t hide from reality and don’t mislead students.

Key message 10: The days of using unconditional offers to fill places are over.

“The Office for Students must clamp down on the rise in unconditional offers. Their steep increase is detrimental to the interests of students and undermines the higher education system as a whole.”

Urgently review your policies relating to unconditional offers. Determine if, when and how you will use them, and publicise this information clearly. Be ready to justify your policies to the regulator. Consider carefully how a change in policy will affect your student numbers and model the financial consequences.

St Mary’s announced that they will no longer use conditional offers. Others are considering doing likewise. If you continue to use unconditional offers, transparency as to your policies and practices will be key.

Key message 11: Students are getting woeful information and advice and are not making informed decisions.

*“Decisions to take on a financial burden lasting most of a working lifetime are often made by students without adequate information or advice. The long-term implications of an adverse choice can leave students in a vulnerable position.”

“Student choice is central to the debate over value for money in higher education. Our inquiry found a woeful lack of pre-application and career information, advice and guidance, particularly awareness of degree apprenticeships. The Government’s current post-18 review must look at routes into higher education, and the quality of careers advice which students receive.”*

What can you do to improve the quality of advice and information you make available to prospective students? How can you partner with schools and FE colleges to provide better information and advice? The more you can show you are doing on this one the better. Have you reviewed your school outreach programmes recently? Now may be the time to increase the budget for school outreach.

Halpin Partnership is a management consultancy specialising in higher education. For more information please email get in touch.

Part 2: One in 5 British Universities is slowly dying. These five steps might just save them.

Oct 05, 2018

More than 20% of British Universities are slowly dying. They are post-92 institutions who have seen their recruitment numbers fall every year since 2011. To read the Guardian and the Times Higher, you’d think this was all due to factors beyond their control.

The truth is that their decline is completely reversible because contrary to what the doom-mongers allege, the factors causing it are entirely within their control. Here are five steps which many other post-92 universities have taken with great success.

Step 1: Develop a distinctive and differentiated position – and stick to it.

How is your university perceived by students, parents & teachers compared to your direct competitor group? Do you know? Is the perception distinctive or is it blurry generic? What makes your university different? Brand distinctiveness will derive from the spirit of the institution. What do you want to be famous for?

These are just some of the questions you should ask. Too many universities look the same, feel the same, talk the same. If you want to stand out in people’s minds, you have to play to your strengths, you have to appear as distinctive as possible. People don’t have time or brain space to remember too much about individual brands, so remember that less is more, and try to sum up your distinctiveness in three words or less. A real challenge for anyone working in higher education!

Step 2: Understand what your ‘customers’ really want.

When was the last time you carried out market research on student wants and perceptions in your catchment area? To what extent do your institution’s subject strengths align with local demand? Or is your programme portfolio reflective of what you can teach rather than what students want to be taught? Have you strengthened your courses with pathway choices, years in industry or abroad?

You can only sell what people want to buy. So, it’s a useful discipline to hold a portfolio review on a regular basis, not just looking at what competitors are offering, but also conducting primary research in schools and amongst employers. Be prepared to innovate. Being the first in market is a powerful brand differentiator.

Step 3: Know your 20:80

In every business, 20% of customers account for 80% of profits. Apply this to your university and find out which are the 20% of programmes are generating 80% of your income. Ask yourself why? And what can you do to make them even more attractive to future students? At the same time, ask yourself why is worth persevering with programmes which consistently under-recruit.

Universities are famously weak at costing their programmes, working out the margins on each. And famously reluctant to cull the walking wounded, investing the savings in much more productive and attractive alternatives. Very few universities can afford to offer universal choice. Strategy is about making choices, and sometimes they are painful. But make the choice now, and you’ll be glad you did in three years’ time.

Step 4: Focus your research efforts

The same principle as above should apply to your research strategy. Conduct a research review and consider whether your university research effort & investment is spread too thinly. If 3 & 4 in the next REF is the goal, decide which of your academics have a hope in hell of reaching that level and focus on their strengths – and disinvest in the rest.

Are there any good reasons why other subjects should not become teaching only? How much academic time would be released? How much could you save, either to the bottom line or by investing in winners? In the battle for survival, hard decisions have to be made.

Step 5: Explore the potential of Degree Apprenticeships.

There’s a number of universities who have made degree apprenticeships really work for them – and 15 are in the Russell Group. 14,000 were available in September 2019 according to the Good University Guide. At the more vocational end of the educational spectrum, degree apprenticeships are a no-brainer. Offering your students a fully-funded education, being paid by their employer, with a degree and a guaranteed job at the end. What’s not to like if you’re a student?

Have you launched your own degree apprenticeships? If yes, how many key local, regional, or national employers are you working with? If yes, have you begun to develop courses beyond the original four? If yes, to what extent are you using degree apprenticeships as a differentiator in your student recruitment marketing?

Degree apprenticeships are a potentially powerful differentiator giving you a student recruitment advantage. Ignore their potential and a neighbouring university will exploit your indifference.

Our advice is to approach this fitness exercise con gusto, rather than just by cherry-picking the easiest. Successful universities in the post-92 group have developed a strong sense of mission and identity. They realise that we are all living in a world which is very different to that of a decade ago. A world where at least in the short to medium term, supply exceeds demand. And a much more competitive world where only the fittest will survive.

David Miller is a fellow of the Halpin Partnership, the higher education management consultancy