Although the phrase ‘evolve or die’ might sound alarmist in the context of Higher Education, there is no doubt that, within the sector, the process of strategic change is well underway. This presents institutions in the UK with the choice of whether to embrace and drive the process themselves or to settle for a more reactive ‘wait and see’ type response.
At the heart of this Darwinian transformation, has been the alteration to the funding process which has changed the student from acquiescent participant into discerning customer. It is therefore no longer sustainable for a university or Business School to simply offer the courses it wishes, or feels equipped, to provide if they do not meet a genuine customer-driven demand.
Nor will the new generation of students, who are investing heavily in their own education, accept less than excellence in the academic and pastoral experience. Moreover, their evolved status has given them the capacity to influence; making it impossible for institutions to maintain ongoing numbers (and income) in a competitive market unless they have provided ultimate customer satisfaction.
Non-participation is simply not an option because, in the words of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”. Those behemoths that hang on to outdated structures and practices will find themselves increasingly outmanoeuvred by their more agile competitors before they realise, perhaps too late, that they do not like the view from where they are.
Universities heading in the right direction, who have made that strategic change, will have already addressed the fundamental questions about future vision and research priorities, they will have identified the major challenges, and barriers to success and will have plans to overcome them.
They will have identified the structures, systems and processes that best support the achievement of their strategic objectives and will have (or be in the process of having) ‘packaged’ their wider offering so it is understandable to the outside world. They will have worked out how important internal communication is to success but also that student recruitment marketing, while critical, is not enough to shape the reputation of an institution.
Steadily, they will create space between their brands and those institutions that haven’t yet quite worked out in which direction they wish to travel. It is these institutions that will end up shaping the market in which they operate, distancing themselves from the Dodos in incremental steps.