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HE: Marketing & Fundraising Risks & Issues 2020 3/3

by Shaun Horan | Feb 3, 2020 | Fundraising

At the beginning of a new year, and indeed a new decade, one of my first priorities was to approach our Halpin Advisory Group and ask them their thoughts on key issues they think VCs, Chairs and COOs will need to think about for the coming year. This group is a senior, experienced and cross-sector one, and their various perspectives are helpful and useful.

We started by discussing political implications for higher education, and the changes we might see from Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are summarised in a blog co-authored by Tim Melville Ross and myself – check it out here. We then went on to discuss the strategic challenges that may well lie ahead.

In our second instalment, we looked at issues facing strategy and governance. In this third and final article we focus on the fundraising and marketing challenges facing universities in the coming years.

Student Satisfaction/Value for Money

Students now expect a university education to help them into a better job. This is what they have been told will happen for many years, and too often the reality is not meeting the expectation. The thrust of government rhetoric is around education as a private good – it’s good for you as an individual, so it’s right that you should pay. The idea of it as a public good – it’s good for society to have educated people – seems long gone. So, value for money then comes to the forefront. Are universities doing enough around employability? Student satisfaction and dramatic campus expansion do not appear to go hand-in-hand – how can universities cope with increased expectations, rising estate costs and increased competition? Do they want to become factories for producing employees? Do they have any choice?


Universities, collectively and individually, must regain the initiative in defining their raisons (intentionally plural) d’etre. In recent years, the government has redefined both the nature and the purpose of universities – and universities may not much like the outcome. How can universities lead the conversation on what they stand for, regain public trust and retain an international reputation? How do they reconcile embeddedness in the local community with international impact?

Furthermore, how can universities maintain the “UK-ness” of the sector, while developments within the UK are diminishing the common interests of the four nations? Universities need to define their individual distinctiveness. While it would be naïve to suggest a disregard for league tables, individual institutions need to identify – and declare publicly – their distinctive character (beyond “top in…” in some carefully chosen league table).


Universities must embrace more explicitly their responsibilities, as well as their opportunities, on the international stage. For example, do international students (studying in the UK) get the full educational experience they deserve? Are appropriate quality controls applied to TNE activities? The reputations of individual institutions are at risk – but also the reputation of the UK sector.

UK universities also need to be careful about their continuing heavy dependence on recruiting students from China. It has been predicted for some time, but at some point those students may well start to choose their home market, and in fact UK students may want to go to China to be taught Chinese languages and culture for the commerce of the 21st Century.

The paradigm shift for distance learning has still not quite arrived but is getting ever closer as technology improves. UK universities have to be desirable destinations physically and virtually.

Fundraising and alumni relations

Working with alumni is about much more than seeking donations. Alumni (and those they are connected with) can help with mentoring, work placements, internships, and intelligence on the international stage. As the competition for students becomes ever fiercer, alumni could give some universities the edge. Fundraising is still too often something that is semi-detached in institutions, where it isn’t aligned to strategy and isn’t supported by leadership. It is always in danger of being a Cinderella function – overlooked for other areas that deliver more to the bottom line. But it’s a long-term game, and rewards patience and investment.

Happy 2020

We could go on; we have just touched on some of the key issues here. You will have more that you might want to suggest and please feel free to join the discussion.

What is for certain is that HE will continue to change, and as always it will be those institutions who see the future clearly and respond who will thrive.

The good news is, whichever area/s of marketing and fundraising you’re currently wrangling with, we can help. We have senior-level experts who are specialists across all areas of university leadership.

Shaun Horan is Joint CEO of Halpin – the home of experts in higher education.

With grateful thanks to the Halpin Advisory Group for their input:

  • Tim Melville Ross CBE
  • Dame Angela Pedder DBE
  • David Allen OBE
  • Robert Dufton
  • Shakira Martin
  • Richard Taylor
  • Simon Gaskell