Desk and primary research to inform programme structure and market positioning


A highly ranked Business School was reviewing undergraduate degree programmes, in order to maximise the number of high quality applications that it received and to develop a stronger competitive position nationally and internationally. In particular the School was exploring ideas and concepts for new business degrees, including:

  • Programme structure – with a potential shift away from a common first year for all business undergraduates
  • The modules that were offered
  • Course titles
  • Competitive differentiation.

Programmes involved included three-year undergraduate degrees and a four-year degree that led to a master’s qualification.

Marketwise Strategies was commissioned to:

  • Design and deliver a programme of perceptions research among schools
  • Assess the competitive environment.

Research requirements

We developed a detailed set of research objectives, which were agreed with the client. These can broadly be summarised as:

  • Identifying the formats of the undergraduate business degree courses that were offered by the University’s closest competitors
  • Identifying among applicants and influencers their expectations of Business degree programmes
  • Understanding the ways in which applicants and influencers differentiated between business degrees
  • Exploring applicants’ and influencers’ perceptions of the proposed degree routes that were under development, and their perceptions of the University.


  • A situation review with key academic staff within the School
  • A brief literature review
  • Desk research into local and national competitor institutions and their offers
  • Primary research in a carefully selected sample of state and independent schools, across three regions.
    • Depth interviews with school staff who supported students’ Ucas applications
    • Focus groups with potential applicants to undergraduate Business courses (again, carefully selected, using criteria agreed with the University).


The desk-based competitor review reported upon the number, locations and characteristics of competing courses, and their market positioning. This information informed the research among schools and was also reported back in detail to the University.

Research among schools clarified the perceived importance of several key course components. It also highlighted:

  • The institutional and degree programme factors that applicants considered when comparing courses of this type
  • Areas in which the course offer was not clear to potential applicants, and which therefore needed to be clarified when preparing marketing materials
  • Some important insights with regard to the teaching and learning methods that were proposed
  • The types of student (indicative market segments) at which the new suite of programmes could most effectively be targeted.

Using the insights gained from Marketwise Strategies’ research, the University has now developed and launched a new suite of business degree programmes. Both the content and the marketing of those programmes reflect the conclusions from our research.

Since the introduction of the new suite of courses the University has seen an increase in applications of 59.8%; a figure that speaks for itself when set against the overall objectives of the review.

The quality of the research methodology, its implementation and the way the overall findings were formulated into actionable outputs were the fundamental building blocks for the success of this initiative.

— Acting Director of Communications – Russell Group University