Marketing the university

Every year Irish universities spend a certain amount of money – the precise sum will vary from year to year and from institution to institution – on marketing. Mostly this money is spent on advertising designed to attract students. Over recent years, nearly all the universities have advertised on radio or television, and on billboards or bus shelters. Some campaigns have been quite spectacular. If you consider the case for marketing from the institution’s perspective, it makes a certain amount of sense: the university has facilities and staff and needs to ensure that these are utilised in the best way possible through successful student recruitment.

It is possible, one might guess, that some of this advertising encourages students to apply to a university where previously they had not thought of entering higher education. But overwhelmingly the effect of such marketing is to persuade students to favour one university over another; in other words, it is not about encouraging students to develop themselves in higher education, it is about persuading them to go to a particular university.

It seems to me that marketing in a university is a necessary activity, not least because the idea of higher education needs to be kept in the public consciousness. But whether marketing should be seen as a competitive activity designed to gain a greater share of the same market for one particular institution could perhaps be questioned. This may become a yet more acute question if, as is apparently the case in the United States, public money made available to for-profit private colleges is used to advertise their services to fee-paying students.

As regards Ireland, it is increasingly my view that inter-university competition for undergraduate students is misguided, as it can have damaging effects on individual institutions. This is true of marketing, as it is also now probably true of student recruitment more generally. In the context of finite and fixed public funding for education, such competition for students produces unpredictable financial results and can damage all universities together. It is probably time for the universities not to market themselves in competition with each other, but to market higher education more generally and more effectively.

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5 Comments on “Marketing the university”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    This is a good example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma that we teach first year students microeconomics. As you note, all the advertising is doing is trying to increase one’s share of an essentially fixed pool of students. Individually, each college has an incentive to advertise but collectively they would be better off if they didn’t. So a ban on advertising would probably be quietly welcomed: no institution has an incentive to unilaterally desist. Who started this advertising racket anyway?

  2. John Says:

    High Court forces UCC to halt disciplinary proceedings against Dylan Evans

  3. Clare Says:

    I can understand why universities promote their colleges around CAO time. My only concern is that the campaigns are often misleading.

    My former university, NUI Maynooth, ran a series of billboard ads displaying prominent spots around Maynooth village implying that they formed part of the university. A cafe in the village was shown with a sign for ‘Tutorials’. The cafe is a business in the town which has nothing to do with the university. It was a bit daft!

    Other university’s laud their students achievements when, in fact, they had nothing to do with the university. I’m thinking of NUI, Galway’s campaign when a student of theirs worked with Senator Obama as part of the Washington Ireland Program. NUIG used it in ad, implying that they had made that opportunity possible. Nonsense!

    We live in a media driven world, and marketing is a necessary part of what universities do. However, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they have some integrity and honesty when they do it. Just my tuppence worth.


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