Encouraging more young people into higher education

Given the increasing competitiveness between universities to attract new undergraduates, the University of Northampton has started to use Esri’s ArcGIS platform to help it improve its marketing. This innovative use of GIS helps the university to promote the value of its courses and increase applications from prospective new students.

Case study – Education

The Customer

The University of Northampton is situated in the heart of England and offers a range of courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

ArcGIS reveals where existing students originate from, helping the university to understand where best to target its future marketing activities

GIS helps to show prospective new students where they might find employment and what their prospects might be following graduation

The university uses ArcGIS to identify local areas of deprivation and encourage disadvantaged children to go to university

The Challenge

Universities in England and Wales are facing up to one of the biggest changes in higher education in decades. Students now have to pay tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year, and this huge financial consideration is deterring many young people from continuing their education. Indeed, in the autumn of 2012, there was a 12% decline in student enrolments across the UK. As a result, many universities failed to fill their courses and suffered a reduction in funding.

The University of Northampton was quick to realise that the introduction of tuition fees would necessitate a dramatic shift in the way that it promoted itself to prospective new students.

Firstly, the university recognised that it would need to further target its marketing activities more precisely towards those students most likely to choose Northampton to help it increase applications. Analysis of postcodes from applicants had been undertaken, however, analysis of enrolled students had not been undertaken. Furthermore, there had not been any opportunities to monitor changes to the location of enrolled students over time.

Secondly, the university was being asked to contribute towards economic reports relating to graduate employment of students from Northamptonshire. It was recognised that this report would also demonstrate the quality of the University’s education to prospective students and reassure them that they would be able to work in graduate-level employment afterwards. The university is currently named England’s top university for employability.

“ Using GIS, we were able to allocate our ambassadors strategically to help raise the aspirations of pupils in the most deprived parts of the County

Emily Fletcher – Business Intelligence Officer, The University of Northampton

The Solution

Like many further and higher education institutions in the UK, the University of Northampton teaches geographic information system (GIS) skills to its students. Every year, as many as 80 undergraduates and 20 postgraduates are introduced to GIS as part of Environmental Science, Geography and Waste Management courses, and the university has a site-wide licence to use Esri’s ArcGIS software for this purpose.

Emily Fletcher, a Business Intelligence Officer within the Office of the Vice Chancellor, discovered that she could also employ ArcGIS for research and business intelligence purposes, at no additional cost. In the first instance, she used ArcGIS Desktop to create a map showing precisely where enrolled students come from. This project provided conclusive evidence that many of the university’s enrolled students come from Northamptonshire. However, it also revealed that pockets of students originate from locations further afield.

Every year the university undertakes a survey to ascertain the destination of leavers. Fletcher used this survey information to create a GIS application that displays students’ home towns, where they subsequently obtained jobs after graduation and whether those jobs are graduatelevel positions. These maps are used in a variety of ways to inform students about job prospects, as well as supply data to Northamptonshire County Council for use in economic reports.

Finally, Fletcher has also used ArcGIS Desktop to plot the locations of Northamptonshire’s primary schools against the National Index of Multiple Deprivation and highlight those schools in the poorest areas of the town and County. Students then visited these primary schools to talk to children about university life. “Using GIS, we were able to allocate our ambassadors strategically to help raise the aspirations of pupils in the most deprived parts of the County,” Fletcher says.

“ ArcGIS has given us greater insight, which will help us further tailor our marketing and attract higher numbers of applicants to our university

Emily Fletcher – Business Intelligence Officer, The University of Northampton


The use of ArcGIS has given the University of Northampton a deeper level of intelligence about its applicants and students. For example, it will be able to foster links with schools and colleges in areas where, historically, young people have tended to select Northampton. “ArcGIS has provided the University with an opportunity to pictorially capture where our students originate” says Fletcher. “It has given us greater insight, which will help us further tailor our marketing and attract higher numbers of applicants to our university.”

In addition, the University of Northampton has gained a great deal of value from being able to analyse the results of its annual leavers’ survey using GIS. While information about students’ destinations had always been available in the past, this information is now displayed clearly on interactive maps. Prospective students can therefore easily see where past students have moved to and whether they have obtained graduate-level employment. This helps them to understand the value that they will gain from an education at the University of Northampton.

Finally, the use of GIS is helping the University of Northampton to target its ambassadorial activities more precisely to those areas of greatest need or relevance. The UK Government seeks to raise the attainment of young people from deprived areas, and the university can now clearly demonstrate how it is supporting this national agenda.

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