The way that universities communicate with their students is irrevocably altered forever thanks to the pandemic.

Out of the flames that have destroyed ‘business as usual’ comes the phoenix of smarter, better, more astute university-to-student communications.

The pre-2020 house style for universities informing (and – only occasionally – engaging with) students about the latest announcements, news and opportunities was very much a “tell all” approach – most commonly via a weekly email bulletin, all-student emails and pithy promotional posts in various social media accounts.

Now, thanks to the challenges of the last 18  months, universities have thought longer and harder about the resourcing, efforts and methods they use to not only communicate to their students but to really listen to their needs, identify their communications preferences and adapt to what works best for the students.

We’re seeing larger student communication teams (either in a central communications operation or in student services) rather than just one role (or more commonly the margins of time of one role) devoted to student communications. The University of Connecticut, the University of Southampton and Manchester Metropolitan University are all recent examples of team expansion and new structures for managing professional student communications.

We’re seeing more cross-university networks being established and used to source, plan and co-ordinate communications across different sub-sets of students, across academic departments and at different milestones of the annual academic cycle.

We’re seeing a greater commonality of how students are communicated with during the recruitment journey, while they are with their chosen university and when they graduate and move through their careers – the so-called student journey more often than not now involves use of multimedia content rather than relying on text-based approaches.

And we’re seeing  a fundamental shift in the variety of  channels that are being employed  in order to meet the different intentions and objectives – so different channels are now allocated for, say, sharing news, for alerting to incidents and risks, or for updating on teaching & learning needs.

A further (and important) development is the emergence of student-to-student communications for strengthening trust and credibility in student communications. A great examples is at California State University Monterrey Bay – where a Senior Communications Specialist (for Student Communications) annually recruits six student interns to work with her in designing and delivering student communications (with these six being drawn from relevant courses in video, photography, multimedia technology and digital design and, in doing so, they are reinvesting their learning to the benefit of the University and its entire student population).

As we start to move back into face-to-face, in-person and on-campus student life – we should be grateful that one of the best outcomes from the disruption of 2020-21 is that we will have better informed students, a much broader set of channels and tailored ways of engaging with students, and therefore: a greater sense of belonging, higher levels of student satisfaction, and a far richer student experience


Justin Shaw, Chief Higher Education Consultant at Communications, has led several student communications reviews for universities and speaks frequently at the annual CASE Europe Student Communications Conference.

Back to top