Head of Marketing and Student Recruitment at Condé Nast College, Agata Mazurkiewicz, explores how the rise of online short courses in Higher Education have gone from a COVID necessity to an indispensable recruitment tool.
An audience for online
When COVID struck it was a wake-up call. Higher Education institutions had become accustomed to a “build it and they will come,” approach to student recruitment. If you had the bricks and mortar and the staff to create good degree courses and the marketing team to give them profile, students arrived in their numbers. Physical closure of our facilities because of a pandemic was something to which nobody in the sector had given serious thought. Here at Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design, our brilliant academic team created our first online programme from scratch in six weeks. Even we could not have anticipated how significant a development that would be.
People in education have been talking about developing a portfolio of shorter online courses for years, but there has never been the impetus to make good on such a concept there just didn’t seem to be the need. What’s more, perhaps we harboured fears that machines could even replace humans in the classroom. However, necessity is the mother of invention and the pressure brought on by need forced the hands of many institutions to get on with it.
How the pandemic improved popularity
The first discovery of lockdown was that there was genuine appetite to use all that enforced spare time in a productive way. It was an opportunity for people who had long considered picking up where they left off with a project they’d neglected and those who’d had dreams of mastering a particular skill. For some it was a question of continuing with their education.
The College currently offers five short, online courses and take-up has been better than we expected.
For some people they are an end in themselves while others become serial participants, taking one course after another as their appetite for the subject is whetted. For others still, and this is the real success story, they are used as an introduction to our longer, degree courses. We are seeing a growing trend of people inspired by our six week programmes to apply for longer studies and the qualifications they bring.
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The benefits of short courses
Short courses allow students to experience an institution and the subject area at a reasonable price point with relatively little time commitment, and to gain the confidence that a larger investment in a degree will be worthwhile. Crucial to making this work is quality. The calibre of the subject matter studied and of the academics teaching has to be excellent and is the key ingredient for success ingredient.
It can be incredibly difficult with prospectuses and even open days to successfully differentiate a college from the competition. Competing institutions can look the same from the outside but the experience a short course brings gives the potential applicant a real feel for a place.
One of the key areas where Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design has scored highly on short courses is with the quality of contributors and speakers from the industry. For example, how often do aspiring fashion industry entrants get the chance to listen to and question experts of the profile of Stella McCartney with the intimacy of just a couple of dozen classmates? Students on these courses can judge for themselves the quality of what they’re being taught and the skills they’re acquiring as well as building up those vital networks with their virtual classmates.
The importance of accessibility
The response of online courses has been hugely encouraging. Students joining us for the first time are telling us they are enjoying and are fascinated by education for the first time in their lives, happily embracing the rigor involved and throwing themselves into project-based learning, inspired by passionate course leaders who live and breathe the industry. For the first time we are making genuinely meaningful contact with younger people too as sixth formers sign up. It’s a real opportunity to inform their Higher Education choices well before they sit their A-Levels.
If anyone thought short online courses were no more than a stop-gap to keep us going during COVID they’re not thinking that anymore. They have become an integral part of our portfolio enabling us to engage with a far wider range of the talent available. They help bring more diverse cohorts to our doors and to foster an even more creative and stimulating environment for all. The international nature of the students allows and encourages an even broader exchange of ideas and knowledge.
More than a pandemic strategy
At Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design, we’re looking at expanding the portfolio and will certainly continue to offer online courses when the pandemic is no more than a nightmarish memory. They represent an indispensable long-term marketing tool in Higher Education, as well as being of genuine value, especially in terms of international students and those in the UK but far from London.
In the end, the crucial word is “quality.” It is vital to apply the same level of care and attention to detail when compiling a short course as it is when deciding the curriculum and delivery for an MA or BA. That’s the essential contract for any academic institution. Whether you study with us for a week or for three years, the return on the investment of your time and money will meet or hopefully exceed your expectations, through and beyond your course of study.
It’s a promise we have to keep.
By Agata Mazurkiewicz