In times of economic downturn, or in the case of the higher education market – student downturn, it is interesting to observe the strategies that different institutions take to address the issue of declining numbers.
Unfortunately, a decline in international numbers is often accompanied by budget cuts across the institution, which presents as a secondary issue.
It is important that the secondary issue isn’t mistaken as the actual problem at hand. The problem is a decline in students, not a cut to budgets. Sadly, the easiest answer is to react to the secondary issue, not the primary, which more often than not can make the primary issue worse.
Cutting costs by producing cheaper versions of the marketing material you have used previously almost ensures that your decline in students will be worse next year. You may be patted on the back for producing your marketing deliverables within the new tight budgets, but when these ‘poor-man’s’ versions of your publications further decrease student numbers (not to mention your brand equity), next year’s budgets will be even more difficult than they were this year… and that’s the best case scenario.
We have seen publications from some Universities go from prestigious two years ago, to homemade this year – presumably in response to reduced budgets. In many cases, one of the key issues for international students not coming to your country (or university) is that they are choosing the prestige that Universities in some countries offer, over lifestyle or other attractive factors that Universities in your country are known for. Producing cheaper, weaker publications doesn’t address this problem. It makes it worse.
Of course it is about funds, but there has to be a smarter way to address the issue of a decline of international students, while working within a constrained budget.
Unfortunately there’s no one size fits all strategy here, because what works for one institution may not work for another.
It’s time to review your publication suite and work out if any can be consolidated, or if some are indeed superfluous. Can information that’s ever changing be omitted from print altogether and handled on the web, allowing for a larger more economical print run?
Market test your material with actual international students from within your University and from others – find out what they really value about your institution, your country’s higher education system, and the competition.
Think outside the box. There is a tendency, especially in Australia, for Universities to peek over the fence at what publications the competition are distributing, and producing their own take. Cover up the logo on most of these publications and they could be from any University. Simply put: it’s boring. The days of being able to play it safe and bowing to a raging fear of doing something different are over. Keep an eye on the competition, but run your own race – dare to be different.
Be prepared to take a risk.
Author Frederick B. Wilcox once wrote: Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.