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.


Even more information for applicants?

According to the Guardian, in a report on a conference they have sponsored:

Universities should offer more detailed information about courses to the Facebook generation, the shadow universities secretary, David Willetts, said today. The Guardian’s Higher Education summit heard that students were sharing information about the offers they receive for university courses on social networking sites, forcing universities to rethink the kind of information they give out.

But there is already an abundance of information about universities, much of it generated by institutions themselves but also a huge amount by government, its agents, newspapers, league table compilers and various websites. Just because some of this now appears, in an even less well-informed state, on Facebook, does not mean universities have suddenly got their marketing campaigns all wrong.


Willetts said students should be able to find out how crowded seminars were likely to be, how much access time they would receive from lecturers and what form this access would take.

Fine and helpful but it is extremely difficult to produce accurate and meaningful data on these items (within a single university, let alone on a comparative basis) and institutions themselves aren’t going to start publishing data describing themselves as overcrowded or offering minimal access to academic staff except on Tuesday afternoons.

But, and this is where he does have a point, if there is no authoritative information about the undergraduate experience then it becomes more likely that gossip and misinformation will dominate. And that is not particularly good news for anyone.