When I joined the OU as an academic over a decade ago, I spent my first 6 months or so asking everyone I met what it was the OU sold, only to be met with “go away, silly boy” sort of looks. (I still don’t know: courses/modules? degrees/qualifications? CPD products? consultancy? research interests, or capacity (though not development or innovation;-)?! If nothing else, the demographics of our paying customers has changed over that period (“Open University may be in its 40s – but students are getting younger“); but does that mean that what we’re selling has actually changed too? Who knows?!)
That universities are now businesses competing in a marketplace is undeniable, and increasingly looks as if it is opening up to private enterprises (Publishing giant Pearson looks set to offer degrees) who are
allowed expected to talk up the ability to generate profits (rather than, err, building up reserves and new buildings;-). See for example Doug Clow’s piece on Apollo Group results – BPP and University of Phoenix where he starts to unpick Apollo Group’s reported financials. (It’s worth remembering where the profits are expected to come from, of course… e.g. Doug again: Tuition Fees and the costs of HE).
So what happens when the market hots the university? More and more marketing, maybe…?
Here’s a round-up of the latest OU job ads…
- Director of Communications (£88,769 – £100,763): “The Open University has been providing life-changing learning experiences for over 40 years and now has 250,000 students. We make a major contribution to choice and innovation in higher education, social mobility and enriching the skills of the workforce through world class teaching and research.
“The Director of Communications works closely with the Vice-Chancellor and Executive to develop and implement a communications strategy to support delivery of the corporate strategy, build and develop relationships with key external stakeholders, ensure consistent delivery of brand, protect and develop reputation and develop organisational culture.
“This is a rare and exciting opportunity for an energetic and visionary person with a passion for education to drive communications activities to build our reputation as the world leader in flexible learning.”
- Marketing Planning and Programme Manager, Marketing (B2B) (£46,510- £52,347): “The post has been created to assist the University to develop its marketing capacity specifically to the B2B Employer Engagement area. It will be essential to harness the energies of academic and academic related staff in the University’s Business Development units, service units and regions to develop a more effective marketing strategy. This will require planning, modelling, project management, influencing and networking skills of the highest order, and an ability to adapt leadership/management style to an academic context.”
- Two Programme Communications Managers, Marketing (£36,715 – £43,840): “Working within a small team, you will be responsible for planning, developing and delivering a broad range of marketing acquisition or retention campaigns to meet student number targets.
“The position requires a proven ability to develop & implement successful marcomms strategies that have the support of key stakeholders. The successful candidate will have a full mix of marketing experience, including a clear understanding of disciplines such as direct & digital marketing, advertising & event management to name a few. This role requires excellent communications & project management skills, ideally twinned with a strong commercial background.”
- Web Assistant Producer Open Learn (Explore), Open Broadcasting Unit (£29,853 – £35,646): “Earlier this year the OU launched an updated public facing, topical news and media driven site. The site bridges the gap between BBC TV viewing and OU services and functions as the new ‘front door’ to Open Learn and all of the Open University’s open, public content. We are looking for a Web Assistant Producer with web production/editing skills.
“You will work closely with a Producer, 2 Web Assistant Producers, the Head of Online Commissioning and many others in the Open University, as well as the BBC.”
And whilst the OU – like many other HEIs – is doing its utmost to keep recruitment of new academic staff to a minimum, and allowing natural wastage to reduce staffing further, it’s good to know that at least posts like the above count as academic related:
PS if you have any ideas about what it is that universities actually sell, please let me know in a comment…;-)
PPS Relevant to the above ads, and picking up on a couple of tweets I posted last week, I’m intrigued to know how university communications departments measure their impact? Presumably (despite being academic related) it’s not got a lot to do with being referenced in academic journals?;-) But how do they measure their impact? Answers in the comments, please…:-)