Outsourcing student recruitment

Australian colleges trust to agents

Very surprised by this piece in @insidehighered which notes that agents have expanded their reach into domestic higher education recruitment in Australia:

When the Australian Skills Quality Authority examined 400 college websites during last year’s marketing audit, as many as 70 turned out to belong to brokerage firms rather than training providers.“It’s certainly quite a phenomenon now,” said Chris Robinson, the agency’s chief commissioner.


A consultant, Claire Field, said marketing agents were particularly active in Queensland, mostly selling vocational diplomas. “With the higher education reforms, there’s no doubt we’ll see more activity,” she said.This is already happening, with high-flying Acquire Learning marketing degrees in ­accounting, arts, business, community services and information technology from Federation University and more than a dozen private colleges. Melbourne-based ProLearn recruits students for Victoria University’s graduate certificate in management.

While this does appear to be focused mainly on colleges and vocational qualifications there is some evidence of universities using such services too. Many UK institutions use agents for international recruitment but how long can it be before universities and colleges start using this kind of service for domestic student recruitment too?

A Huge Outsourcing Deal

Texas goes large.

A while ago via The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on massive outsourcing activity in Texas. Whilst outsourcing in itself is not that unusual, the scale of the deal done by Texas A&M University is pretty extraordinary. Last summer the university outsourced all of its main dining and facilities services to Compass Group USA this summer for an estimated $260-million in savings and revenue over the next decade:

Controversy over the decision to outsource flared on the College Station campus last spring, but then quieted after Compass Group, a North Carolina-based company, hired almost all of the university’s 1,600-some dining, maintenance, custodial, and landscaping workers. It began providing those services in the university’s stead in August.

Questions about the move persist, however, as the deal reverberates beyond the Brazos Valley. The Texas A&M system is inviting its other universities and even colleges elsewhere to take up the framework of the Compass Group contract.

As college administrators continue to face fiscal pressures, outsourcing becomes more attractive, even when it means cutting jobs. The College Station campus has lost 14 percent of its state appropriations in the past two years, and while it managed to stave off across-the-board tuition increases in that period, it saw its student-to-faculty ratio increase from 19:1 to 21:1.

Zoológico de Berlim.

The move to outsource “was all about, in tough economic times, finding the revenues that you can pour into the classroom and the research laboratory,” says John Sharp, the system’s chancellor, who drove the effort.

Texas A&M officials were already considering outsourcing the campus dining services when Mr. Sharp announced in February, after just six months on the job, that proposals were being accepted to take over not only the university’s dining operations but other services as well.

That announcement was met with resistance from faculty, staff, and students, many of whom expressed concern for the hundreds of university workers who would be affected. Others saw the decision as having come “from above,” in a move that “overrode the autonomy of the university to make its decisions,” says John N. Stallone, a professor of veterinary medicine and speaker of the Faculty Senate, who remains unconvinced of outsourcing’s benefits.

Although there was clearly some opposition it has not stopped developments as since then, the University has also outsourced landscaping, building maintenance and “custodial services” jobs across its 16 campuses. Leaving aside the question of why a university needs “custodial services” this is another major step which will result in savings of, it is claimed, $92m over 12 years.

I can’t find any details on how well these services have been operating since the outsourcing move but it in a separate development it has recently been announced that the President of Texas A&M is to stand down after a relatively brief tenure.

[Photo by Márcio Cabral de Moura used under Creative Commons licence]

Universities ‘scared of private sector’

Oh no we’re not

Some festive cheer from politics.co.uk.

The analysis here is somewhat overstating the case though:

Massive efficiency savings which could drive down costs in higher education are only possible if university managers get over their suspicion of the private sector, Policy Exchange has claimed. A report by the centre-right thinktank’s Alex Massey published today argues that significant benefits are possible from “productive collaborative arrangements”.

Up to 30% of the total cost of university administration could be saved if more services were shared, the report claims. Across the total higher education sector this amounts to £2.7 billion.

There really is nothing much new in this report from Policy Exchange, the full text of which can be found here.

Four brief points to note:

  1. Universities really do need the VAT changes we have argued for for many years in order to create real incentives for sharing services (the report endorses this).
  2. Simply outsourcing lots of services does not necessarily deliver a better service for students or guarantee savings: it works in certain areas in certain contexts at certain times but is no panacea.
  3. The report rightly acknowledges significant examples of sector wide shared services which already exist, including UCAS, but also what about JANET and jobs.ac.uk? Not sure would really argue that QAA is a shared service in the same sense although there is a case for HESA.
  4. The savings figures quoted here are just fantasy.

So, overall a modest contribution to the very real challenges facing universities. Yes, we should collaborate more on services but only where it will both deliver savings and improve the quality of the service we provide. But the idea that universities are ‘scared’ of the private sector is very wide of the mark.

Outsourcing Student Services

Interesting and slightly scary blog post in the Chronicle on the opportunities for outsourcing student services in US higher education. As one person interviewed puts it: “It’s almost taking the people out of it”.

Some of the wonderful products on offer include:

  • Rave Wireless lets students set cellphone timers that alert campus police if they do not arrive at their destinations. “We call it putting a blue-light telephone in everyone’s pocket,” said Robert Jones, Rave’s director of marketing.
  • University Parent produces printed guides, Web sites, and electronic newsletters for college parents.
  • Lifetopia tells colleges it will help them “put people in their place” — with a Web site where students can create profiles and select their own roommates.
  • CourseScheduler offers software to help students choose classes at hours they can handle. Otherwise “they’re just going to slap something together” — at the risk of burning out if their schedules are unmanageable, said Michael Smyers, a recent graduate of Kansas State University who founded the company.

And this is the best:

  • With Snoozester, students can request wakeup and reminder calls, such as to start studying for a test a week in advance. This product particularly frustrated some administrators. “People have just stormed away,” said Neville Mehra, the company’s chief executive. But most absences from class, he said, are a result of oversleeping.

Just what we’ve all been waiting for.