In 2014, Staffordshire University was struggling. It had slipped to 92 in the Guardian’s University League tables, student numbers were in decline and its communications focused on the same ambiguous employability messages as the majority of other universities. Combined with a perceived nondescript location (few people outside the Midlands actually know where Staffordshire is), things looked bleak.
Despite these challenges, the governors and leadership of the university knew that Staffordshire had something very special going for it. Staffordshire University is not like other universities. There is an endearing friendliness that anyone who knows someone from Stoke-on-Trent will recognise, and the university reflected this. Additionally, the university’s vocational heritage (it had been a leading polytechnic) was far from being a negative, as many at the institution feared. With rising student debt, and an increased appreciation of the importance of practical, real-world skills, this vocational focus becoming a genuine strength.
We worked with a select team across the board of governors, academic leadership and marketing teams and began breaking rules. We took those elements that were considered Staffs’ weakness - location and vocation - and worked out how to make them a positive. We considered how the university might look in the future, and we looked to other markets, such as Switzerland, for inspiration about how a vocational focus was actually a modern and future focused strength rather than an unintelligent second choice.
Between us, we developed 12 single minded propositions for the university and built them further alongside existing students, prospective students (and their parents) and the university’s staff. The leading 3 ideas were developed further and formed the basis of a strategy to reverse the trend of declining student numbers.
The university immediately began implementing the new ideas, including their 2 year Accelerated Degrees, guaranteeing work experience on each and every course - something no other university could offer. The focus on real-life learning has led to Staffordshire University being rated the number 1 university in England for employability - a major contributing factor in the improvement from 92 in the league table to 67, in 2018.