BLOG: Whippin’ Piccadilly

Northern band Gomez’s song about a student day out in Manchester coincided with me being a student at the University of Sheffield at the end of the 1990s. It tells a familiar and light-hearted tale of sharing wine with your mates and falling into the union, the way so many days during those three years were spent.

I was the last year of free higher education as, in 1998, the same year as this song’s release, tuition fees were introduced. Since then, students have had to pay from what was then a £3k per year fee to where we are now at over £9k per year for many courses. Recently in the news has been the findings of the Government-commissioned review that recommends cutting fees to £7.5k a year max; it was unconceivable to me then the value of the education I was receiving, and even now at this proposed ‘reduced’ price it’s unlikely I would have been able to go.

I did a history degree which meant formal lecture time was low. Instead, lots of time was spent buried under piles of old books in the library researching and writing essays, and then queuing to type them up in the computer suite (personal laptops didn’t exist yet), before returning to our dated halls of residence which, in our block, still had shared bedrooms and bathrooms. Facilities and accommodation weren’t really a consideration!

Then, the criteria for choosing a university was very much about how highly it was ranked for the subject you wanted to study, and how good the location was going to be for play when the working day was done; there was little marketing involved or needed by the universities.

Sheffield was a top university in the country for history, and it’s a city centre campus. Everything was in walking distance, with shops, pubs, clubs on the doorstep, a mainline train station with good transport links around the country, and to top it all off a cracking music scene. I immediately loved the place, so it was an easy decision to make.

Also making it simpler, was that student satisfaction pre-millennium was a given, just being there was all the satisfaction that was needed. Now there is so much marketing required; so much so marketing universities is a major business with dedicated in-house teams and large advertising budgets spent with some of the biggest advertising agencies in the country.

Some tread a thin line with their claims. In 2017, six universities were forced to scrap their marketing campaigns by the advertising watchdog for misleading students with their ads. These tested boundaries are because student expectations of this paid-for service have become ultra-high, and the competition between universities to secure students and the income they bring with them is fierce.

These days it’s not just the teaching quality that will be the deciding factor, the lifestyle and leisure qualities are as important. First-class academic, accommodation and leisure facilities are demanded, along with state-of-the-art science and research centres, the latest tech, and open plan workspaces that mirror modern, agile working office environments.

Rolling into Sheffield

I revisited Sheffield recently, and retraced some of my student steps to find the essence of the university place unchanged – the Students Union, the Arts Tower dominating the skyline, red brick Firth Court.

All around the compact campus though regeneration has happened – the growth of voluminous new blocks of flats, coupled with the decline of the traditional pubs was easily visible, a few of the old favourite student pubs were boarded up, and the one opposite my final year house (which I’d practically lived in as an escape to my grotty student digs) converted to a Sainsburys Local!

Sheffield’s Leadmill venue is still a legendary place for combining the latest alternative bands performing live music, with DJs who understand how to cater for their audience to deliver a good night out.

Place in the marketing mix is all about choosing the right experience settings for your customers to participate and feel like they’re making a good investment with their time and money. I like to think if I was doing it all again (and I could afford it!), I’d still be rolling into Sheffield for those student years. Which is just as well as, unbeknownst to me at the time, it’s where I met my future husband…but that’s another story about right place, right time.

Song credit: Gomez. Watch the music video here.