There is a feeling of hope in the air.
As COVID retreats, spring blooms. As the days get longer, the world begins to reopen. And as the mornings get brighter, students return to campus.
Whilst we will all be extremely glad to see the end of social distancing and masks, once it is safe, the lasting impact of COVID cannot be overstated. It has been transformational, not least of all for the new students who have had en
tirely different university experiences than the ones they were expecting. A full third of their learning so far has been encapsulated by stay-at-home orders, remote learning, and very limited social engagement with their peers.
Our Student Lifestyle Report, now in its tenth year, is designed to determine how behaviours in students have changed over the past 12 months, to inform strategy for the next 12.
Suffice to say, this was our most challenging rendition yet. But here’s what we discovered:
Students want more from brands, and they are willing to pay for it.
Today’s students have three strong wishes, and they’re prepared to pay a premium for the brands which can grant them.
Sustainability is the first. It’s the key tenet for any future successful brands, in the eyes of students, and breaching it is an offence worthy of a break up. As is their second wish, ethics. Students told us that when brands are associated with scandals like tax avoidance, sweatshops, and poor moral behaviour, they were no longer worthy of student custom. And a wish for more independent, or ‘indie’, brands makes up the trio. Platforms like Depop, Etsy, and Marketplace have given rise to the glamour of independent retailers, and students cannot get enough.
Technology may not be on a linear path.
Conventional wisdom paints a picture that the younger generation are the most adoptive and adaptive to new technology. But today’s students, firmly in the heart of the Gen Z demographic, harbour fantasies of disconnection.
They are 17% less passionate about being connected, than their Millennial counterparts, and investment in smart technology (like fitness trackers, smart watches, and VR headsets) is at an all time low for first year students.
This trend was already gaining momentum before the pandemic, but what will a year of reliance on technology have done to it?
Privacy is becoming primary.
In keeping with the desire to disconnect, students are becoming more and more enamoured with social media platforms like WhatsApp, Zoom, Messenger, and Discord. The common thread running through these is privacy, they each rely less on public profiles and announcements, and operate closed room conversations.
Brands which have been trying to reach students across the myriad social media platforms may yet face an even greater challenge, as their market closes the door to outsiders.
The commodity and fragility of trust.
The collective impact of Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, and Brexit can hardly be understated. But what societal effects they may have had at a global level, they have also been areas of interest, passion, and fierce debate for young
people. Receiving timely and reliable updates has, therefore, been of paramount importance.
But where and how students consume their news is changing. For Gen Z on the whole, social media has replaced the traditional channels. Almost two-thirds use it for t
heir daily news consumption, and in some countries, Instagram is the only place they get their news.
This sidestepping of news networks is partially the endemic behaviour of young people, for whom social media plays such a pivotal role, but also due to a lack of faith. Only 6% of students completely trust the news, and almost half of them can only go so far as saying that they ‘somewhat’ do.
But once travel is back on the cards...
Whatever adversity students have faced over the past twelve months, whatever restrictions they have needed to abide by, and whatever freedoms have been taken away – their lust for life hasn’t been dulled.
Come May 17th, the current date when international flights might resume, the majority of students will be raring to go. More than half of them told us that the pandemic has made them want to travel more in the future. Realisations of the liberty of free movement, of the fragility of health, and of the insecure grounding of everyday life, have all contributed to a desire to get moving again.
These five lessons can teach us a lot about the student psyche, and how we might engage better with them in the months and years to come. But for the full picture, and a true understanding of what’s driving their decisions as consumers, the UCAS Lifestyle Report 2021 is your guidebook. As of today, you can download it here.