Dean Forbes


Marketing and Communications Conference

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

International Room, Level 4 Education Building, Flinders University

Professor Dean Forbes

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International & Communities)

Flinders University

# 1. Top line marketing is about really knowing your institution

That means at least two things.

First, knowing what is it that Flinders University stands for (our values, or value proposition), and how that can be consistently communicated?

Second, knowing whether we are delivering an education that is consistent with what we believe Flinders University should be delivering.

The International Student Barometer keeps us informed about what our students have to say about us. One of the strongest themes that comes through is the strength of the human touch at Flinders.

Australian universities have been world leaders in terms of collecting information on international education. But as the significance of international education grows, the benchmarks are being pushed higher.

As an example Daniel Guhr (ICG Illuminate Consulting Group) has developed a strategic data management model called Prism which draws together all the major sources of student information within a university and enables deep interrogation of processes and patterns. Initially designed for international students, it is being used by the universities piloting the model to include all students within the university. The aim is to have 12-15 universities using the system which could also be used as a benchmarking tool.

# 2. Global markets are increasingly competitive. We should be worried about Canada

Who are our major competitors?

The USA, of course. University budgets have been cut, encouraging institutions to offset by recruiting more international students. At the same time, the value of international postgraduates to innovation and company start-ups in America is increasingly being realised. One group is calling for the US to attract an additional three million international postgraduates?

The UK. The government recently shot itself in the foot, in a strikingly similar way to which DIAC did in Australia a short time ago. It will re-cover.

And why Canada? It has underperformed over the last few years but the Canadian government has produced a new report calling for the states and central government to come together for the first time to strongly position Canada as a destination for international students.

Canada and Australia share a similar market niche (in the same way in which Perth and Adelaide do). I suspect we will be affected in the same way that Perth’s growth as an international education stalled when Adelaide became more competitive six or seven years ago.

# 3. University Rankings are important, but not necessarily in the way we generally think

University rankings are commercially lucrative for most of the major ranking agencies and the press. They will together continue to promote them.

Many governments also take note of rankings. Significantly for us, this includes those looking for places to send scholarship students.

How influential are the university rankings for prospective students? The 2011 International Student Barometer Entry Wave, is quite revealing.

About 5% of Australia’s international students said league tables helped in choosing the institution in which to study. When asked how important, the same group ranked them as the 17th most important factor.

There is quite a contrast between this finding for international students in Australia and the global ISB sample. Globally, just over 13% said league tables were helpful, and they were ranked 8th in level of importance. In other words, league tables were less significant for international students in Australia than international students globally, but they were not especially significant for either group.

The real significance of rankings is the impact they have on a university’s reputation.

And we are sliding down the THE and QS rankings, while holding our place in the Shanghai World University Ranking.

# 4. A university’s digital footprint is both a reflection of its reputation and a major contributor to it

Flinders international reputation is not particularly strong, if judged by (albeit imperfect) ranking results.

As an example, on the QS ranking for 2012 Flinders Academic Reputation score was 27.7, compared to UniSA’s 38.3 and Adelaide’s score of 73.8. The THE survey showed a similar pattern.

Likewise our website ranking on the July 2012 Webometric measure is not strong. We are positioned at 666 internationally. UniSA is 459, and Adelaide 255. Benchmarking internationally, the University of Warwick is ranked at 186, and Simon Fraser University 87.

We need to strengthen our reputation by expanding and sharpening our academic and promotional engagement with the digital world, including social media.

We will hear more about digital marketing shortly.

The way in which academics engage with digital and social media is increasingly important to brand and reputation. I am a regular user of Twitter and it has become one of the most important means of interacting with my professional networks.

The Conversation website is gaining a lot of attention, and if you are not familiar with it I suggest you have a look. I also subscribe to digital newsletters containing research summaries from universities. Asia Pacific Outlook, which is produced by the University of British Columbia, is an example.

Do we know how much grass roots digital academic engagement we have at Flinders? I don’t believe so. We really should do an audit to see where we stand and how it can be better connected to our marketing.

Online learning can also contribute to digital reputation. The emergence of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) is expected to bolster the global reputations of the prestigious universities making their curriculum available. How will the MOOCs will affect our market positioning

# 5. Universities must listen to the thoughts of the marketing Road Warriors

Road Warrior has been the vernacular for the travelling marketers from universities. We now also have digital Road Warriors, who are travelling the internet. It’s time to hear from two of them. Over to Matt Schultz and Kate Silkstone.