Kathryn Jones

Kathryn Jones

By Kathryn Jones, Director of Marketing and Communications, Birmingham City University

Today sees the launch of the second national annual campaign to demonstrate the benefits of universities within UK society – Universities Week: What’s the Big Idea? With such widespread negative publicity about universities, this is our beacon of hope as we face a massive communications challenge across the sector (to quote Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis at this mornings launch at the  Liberal Club in London).

The campaign is centrally coordinated by Universities UK with input from a range of other groups, including the Universities Marketing Forum, of which I’m proud to be a member. In 2010, its inaugural year, it was supported by 110 institutions, including my own. If there are any universities who have not yet signed up to join the 2012 campaign, I’d question why not? This is our chance to shine – our justification for pushing out the stories, events and activities which highlight the real and measurable impact universities have on business, society, health and well-being.

A visit to the official website atwww.universitiesweek.org.uk/  will reveal a wealth of testimonials from individuals who, let’s face it, have far more clout (in terms of popularity and personal appeal to the masses) than most university academics or marketers. It is great to see support from the likes of Sir Patrick Stewart, Sheila Hancock, Dame Kelly Holmes, Steve Cram, Lawrence Dallaglio, Greg Dyke and Natasha Kaplinsky.

For me, one of the quotes that best sums up the value of university education comes from Justin King, CEO of J Sainsbury PLC, who states: “A university education helps young people to develop the ability to think, analyse and develop sound judgment. The diversity of challenges facing big businesses today – the economic climate, technology, globalisation and the increasingly sophisticated needs of consumers – demand these skills.” Hear, hear!

The pressure facing UK universities and their future sustainability is immense. We’re in a hybrid situation where we are no longer anywhere near fully public funded and – with the exception of initiatives like the New College of Humanities announced earlier this month – we’re not fully privatised either. Our income from UK recruitment is still limited and regulated by the Government cap on student numbers and tuition fees, as well as our obligations to fair access. Our potential future income from international recruitment is another story, which increasingly looks like it won’t have a happy ending. For universities like Birmingham City in particular, whose core business is teaching with only limited niche research, our hands are tied.

There is now a genuine and growing concern that the number of students who will choose to go to university in future in the higher fee environment will reduce. If pricing research (albeit notoriously unreliable) is to be believed, that drop could be anywhere between 10 and 70%. If that happens, we’ll all lose out: businesses like Sainsbury’s, the British economy, British society  and the universities who will inevitably become unsustainable, despite Government reassurances to the contrary.

Why on earth are we putting in jeopardy the British system of Higher Education that has previously been the envy of the world? Putting the national debt aside, surely there needs to be some kind of rethink before it’s too late. What exactly is the big idea here?

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Kathryn Jones

Kathryn Jones

Director of Marketing & Communications at Birmingham City University
Kathryn Jones

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