Thursday, 27 September 2018

Sorry- the education you ordered is out of stock

By 2050 the world's population will have (slightly) more 18-year-olds than it does today (UN data).  The problem for many Univeristies is that the proportion of those young people in wealthy and developed countries is decreasing whilst, in poorer and less developed regions is increasing.
Why is this a problem for Universities?  Well, money, obviously, or, to be more precise, the lack of it.

So can Universities make their offerings more accessible, affordable and of equal or better quality than the unscalable business model they currently run?

Scalability is a key business problem.  What does it take to up-scale - and how swiftly and efficiently can that be achieved?  In many developed nations that have good quality Universities, mainly for domestic students, the issue will be - how can we down-scale??

Unless, of course, those brilliant minds, planning the strategies of their universities over the next 30 years can think of a way, develop it as a core part of their business model and transform themselves, whilst retaining their brand identity? (see, that Marketing stuff was not wasted on me).

...and whilst I am a great fan and supporter of on-line education I'm not so naive to consider it a panacea.  But the fact remains that tomorrow's students want accessible, flexible, good quality delivery of worthwhile qualifications but very few Universities are prepared to meet those demands.

Oh, but 2050 is years away....


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Of stars, cows and dogs?

As Universities become more "corporate" there will be a clear recognition of "profitability", "strategic drivers" and other such jargon.  Gone, the Newmanesque ideal of University in favour of the Higher Education business model.
Let's look at the typical Business School in the typical University through the lens of a key business model - the Boston Matrix.  This model suggests that investment should be in stars and cash cows - to sustain earnings in the future and divestment of dogs and some question marks (cash drains and unlikely to provide a profit.)

Reproduced from unknown authors under Creative Commons License and "Boy" by your author.
Stars are in areas of high market growth, where providers have a good market presence and share.  Degrees with "Finance" in the title or the even more mysterious terms "Management" or "Marketing"  are typical of Stars. Stars can become Cows over time as market growth slows or competition increases.  Dogs, on the other hand, are the poor relations.  They are small players in back-water and neglected disciplines, enjoying words such as "Operations Research" or "Banking" in their titles.
Some Question marks become stars if they are given the right investment and nurture.

Follow this logic to a natural conclusion and we'll see that all providers end up with the same bland offerings in major areas with specialisms relegated to "pathways" or "options" or, even worse, de-listed.

If only Business Schools went on to read Chapter 2 of the strategy textbook and recognised that in a fixed price environment it is differentiation that will win in the longer-term.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Rainbows in Higher Education?

My absolute favourite part of being at Primary School was Friday afternoons.  Not because of the proximity to the weekend but the timetabled "Art" session that allowed Miss Broad to put her feet up for a while and us, 5 and 6-year-olds, to model with Plasticine.
At the start of term, our personal stash of Plasticine would be renewed and the rainbow colours were chosen.  By the end of a few weeks, after different works of art had been created, displayed, disassembled and returned to the personal stash, we were left with a large amount of brown Plasticine.  As little boys do, this was swiftly modelled into different styles of stool, much to Miss Broad's horror.

Now, at the tail end of my Educational journey, I reminisce about the rainbow that so certainly turned brown and wonder if there is a useful metaphor there?

Probably not, as I consider the marvelous diversity, innovation, and differentiation available in our Universities as all race for:
  • More bums on seats, amid dwindling numbers of domestic undergraduate students;
  • Greater diversity, amid costly and competitive access to international students;
  • Compliance with accreditation / regulatory / benchmark standards, amid an environment suffering regulation fatigue;
  • That one "blockbuster" prizewinning marketing campaign, amid so many others;
  • NSS scores just a wafer-thin margin above the already high average;
  • More and better resources, amid financial constraints on resource building on anything as unexciting as social space, teaching space or IT capacity (unless it is for STEM subjects).
The problem is that the only evidence I can find supports the opposite view, that degrees are all looking the same.

No more Rainbow colours - just brown (and an unappealing shade of brown at best).

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

... and what is it that you do?

Pity the poor academic, in full gown on a sweltering day, standing in line and waiting for the Royal motorcade to arrive.  Then, the moment to be remembered for life, The Queen (God bless her) holds out her hand and asks the perspiring lecturer ".......and what is it that you do?"

Shades of  Her Majesty's  2008 LSE question about the financial crisis?
Any advice on a sensible answer gratefully received.  After 32 years in the Higher Education arena (not counting my own first degree) I still seek a clear definition.