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Part 1: One in five British Universities is slowly dying. And it’s entirely reversible.

by | Sep 28, 2018 | Strategy & Transformation

More than 20% of British Universities are slowly dying. They are post-92 institutions who have seen their recruitment numbers fall every year since 2011. And to read the Guardian and the Times Higher, you’d think this was due to factors beyond their control.

They blame the removal of the cap, the growth of unconditional offers, the ‘failure’ of the government’s market-oriented reforms, the fact that the TEF doesn’t seem to have had much impact on students, and cheap promotional tricks from more aggressive competitors.

These external factors seem not to have hindered the success of the 30+ post-92 universities who have seen their numbers grow significantly over the same period. These institutions have worked out that it’s dumb to play the rankings game by imitating research-intensive universities. They understand what their particular students want from a university education and have set out their stalls to deliver a relevant and differentiated experience. They hire great teachers and have built up strong links with their local employers. They feed employer input back into the curriculum, in a way that might be anathema to some in the academic aristocracy.

In sum, they understand their position in the market, and they have worked out how to compete in substance, without recourse to desperation tactics. ‘To thine own self be true’ as wise old Polonius said.

Although it’s true that some universities are “teetering on the edge” (THE 23/8) it’s not true that it’s largely down to “top institutions hoovering up recruits”. In any market, brand shares change within sector, not without. Ford are losing share to VW, not to Mercedes. It’s also true that lower tariff institutions overall are slowly losing share to higher tariff HEIs, but within the lower tariff sector, the unsuccessful are losing out to the successful in much greater numbers. Their direct competitors are eating their lunch.

Their decline is reversible because it’s not due to external factors – the strategies that can turn them around are entirely within these universities’ control.

In fact there are steps which could return these institutions to full health within just a few years, and I’ll be sharing them in part two of this blog.

David Miller is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin Partnership, the experts in HE. Halpin offers services to support institutions with student recruitment.

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