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Admissions improbable: new frontiers in student recruitment

Recruiting students to universities can be tough, so why not try a Zombie-Infested Science Panic game? Paul Greatrix thinks it's a great way to attract new recruits.
This article is more than 2 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

In the new marketplace of higher education (©many Ministers) it is perhaps unsurprising that universities are trying harder and harder and using more and more creative and imaginative techniques to recruit the students they need to grow and survive.

This recent piece on Wonkhe highlighted the approaches which might be taken to increasing international student recruitment to the UK. And then there is the continuing popularity of unconditional offers for domestic students which continues to generate controversy.

Life’s a game

A few years ago, before we really had unconditionals, the next big thing in student recruitment was “gamification” and this report in the PIE news back in 2015 commented on several games which seemed to be taking off:

The Game of Your Life, created by Özyeğin University in Istanbul, uses real Facebook timelines to show users the future, allowing them to choose what course they want to study, and even featured shares and comments from real Facebook friends.
The game, which reportedly reached 250,000 unique users, offered the winner a four-year scholarship.
According to the promotional video, many of the top thousand users “would never have considered OZU if it weren’t for the game”.
Other examples of gamification include a dating-style website, Global University Match, that matches students with universities based on their profile information.

Then there is this from the University of Southern California:

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. In fact, try it a few times through a role-playing game first — so that when it comes time to take action in real life, you’ve already learned from your mistakes and know how to succeed!
That’s the idea behind Mission: Admission, a digital game that lets students role-play a college applicant trying to juggle financial aid and admissions deadlines, college selection decisions, and more. The game was developed by USC Pullias Center for Higher Education’s Digital Equity in Education team in partnership with USC’s Game Innovation Lab, and supported with a social media campaign by the nonprofit Get Schooled. Then, the Pullias’ team tested the role of gamification strategies to improve college access in 54 high schools across California.

The early findings from that study indicated that in the schools where the game was made available application rates did increase.

Eastern promises

That’s all good but better than either of these approaches it seems to me is this from Japan where several universities have adopted some rather unorthodox recruitment activities. Kindai University, near Osaka had a very unusual approach:

[It] drew crowds with an elaborate game called “Zombie-Infested Science Panic,” in which students played the part of the undead. Nearly 1,200 people took part in the game, which tasks players with solving problems by observing the zombies.
The goal is to encourage would-be students to look for answers while escaping conventional academic thinking. The university also wants to show how it has changed, according to the school’s head of public relations.
“KINDAI is not bound by existing limits, and its lectures and facilities are unique,” the PR chief said, adding that faculty members like Okamoto, who studies modern society through the lens of zombies, are part of its uniqueness. “We want to showcase this through the problem-solving game.”
Participants spend about 60 minutes walking around and collecting hints hidden in the behavior of the zombies.

Sounds like a great way to attract new recruits.

Secret affairs

Elsewhere in Japan meanwhile a rather specialist institution, Koyasan University, is offering “secret campus” events, in which it invites visitors without telling them what to expect:

An event in July featured a meditation session in which 43 participants were encouraged to “empty their self.” They also had an opportunity to try on traditional Buddhist monks’ clothes and have a monk’s vegetarian meal.
Koyasan is widely seen as an institution for training monks and has suffered from falling enrollment. Looking to reverse its fortunes, the school has held events in which participants were allowed to stay overnight at a temple. However, they often ended up being more like tourist events, drawing more working adults than would-be students.
The only Japanese university that has a course on esoteric Buddhism said the secret campus concept attracts high school students by using its image as a mysterious university to its advantage.

It does rather seem that Koyasan might be rather up against it to be honest.

So, plenty of ideas for enhancing recruitment activity there but which will be the first UK institution to have a zombie-based open day or to pitch itself as a mysterious university?

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