Marketing inflation

Increasing marketing spend in universities – real or hype?

Inside Higher Ed features a report on a recent conference on marketing in higher education which featured some bold predictions about the money UK universities will be spending in the brave new market place.

Discussion focused on whether we would see levels of spending of up to 20% of revenue on marketing as has happened in some US universities. The predictions all seemed to suggest that we would see major growth in UK universities’ marketing spend as institutions compete more to attract students.

The article notes what has happened in some US institutions and contains some rather extravagant propositions about what will happen in the UK:

A report released in July by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chaired by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, found that for-profits in the country spent an average of 22.7 percent of their revenue on marketing and recruitment, 5 percentage points more than their investment in teaching.

Tim McIntyre-Bhatty, deputy vice-chancellor of Bournemouth University, said that UK universities would rapidly move toward an equivalent figure. “The question is how quickly and the answer is 12 months,” he said.

Robb said that tuition fees had escalated and the same thing would happen to marketing budgets. “There’s no doubt that universities will spend more on marketing in the next 5 to 10 years than they have done to date,” he added.

It is reasonable to speculate that universities will spend more on marketing than they have in the past. However, the idea of spending even as much as 4-5% on marketing as one director of marketing quoted in the piece suggests strikes me as hugely excessive. And as for allocating in excess of 20%, this is just absurd. In reality I would guess that the real level of spend will be in the range of 1-2%. So a load of rather excessive hype I think.

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