Director: Dr.Susheel Kandalgaonkar
From the Director’s Desk
I would like to share some thoughts on a contemporary issue in higher education. You may send your comments to mail –ID; firstname.lastname@example.org
Brand building in education
(30 March 2013)
It is interesting to note how educational institutes and universities have appropriated the jargon of business management. Most used idioms by academics and administrators of University system in the recent times are ‘value addition and offering a brand promise’. Needless to say, here the student is a consumer and education institute is a service provider. Sometimes this trend would reach an absurd level wherein even the biographies of the historical figures are proposed to be rewritten in the new idiom of business management; social thinkers like Mahatma Phule and freedom fighters like Veer Sawarkar are assigned new titles of Managing Director (MD), Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of social – political projects. The signs, symbols of new economy have influenced the thinking and expression of those who are in the field of education and academics.
Let us examine meaning of one of the often used terms of Business Management in the context of higher education; brand management .The aim of this write- up is to highlight that floating a new signifier is not a valid substitute for purposeful action in the field of business and more critically in the field of education.
In a recent issue of Sakal Education (February 2013) , a magazine that presents articles of from the top educationists and policy makers, some of articles are from Vic e Chancellors of Universities and Directors of Engineering and Management Institutes’ of India. I came across the following paragraph in an article on branding of Higher education.
‘Quality is the outcome of what is defined as the brand promise by the universities.---- The major flaw has been the inability of the affiliated institutions under the university system to live up to the brand promise of the University that it represents . The result is the reduced aspirations of the seekers to undertake higher education.
It is thus essential to study the segment s with most powerful potential for applications and enrollment pattern of current students and then develop solutions oriented communication maps for the group of institutions.’(Page 32)
This is an example of corporatization of higher education in India. One can recognize that only some aspects of management of big business are focused eg. Segmentation of students as consumers, corporate communication strategy for a group of institutes and brand promises that differentiates the group from the competitors. The treatment is offer a promotional activity but there is no evidence of a serious intent that is backed by consistent effort s.
At operational level when a University or an institute is unable to declare the results in scheduled time, when assessment of students lack academic credibility, when admissions are given on the basis of donations rather than on merit, when higher fees are equated with better quality, then what would be the credibility of the brand in the eyes of those who are expected consume it? At a more fundamental level, is it conceptually and morally right to consider students as consumers? Can you produce knowledge when you are expected to only consume what is offered to you?
It is important to note that though living up to the brand promise is diagnosed as a major problem in the above mentioned paragraph, the solution that is offered focuses on pulling and pushing tactics of promotional marketing. Students are seen as potential customers whose pattern of enrollment needs analysis. Communication is only a series of one way messages and it assumes that the receiver is an ignorant and passive consumer. Solutions are tactical, cost effective and generalized answers for a group of colleges. Perhaps the word Brand (Product rather than an idea that excites) connotes these superficialities. The old-fashioned word Reputation (based on respect and credibility) is now substituted by Brand that offers a quick-fix solution’.
What I intend to convey is that such an approach would result in mediocre solutions to serious problems of “inability to live up to the brand promise”. In a way our educationists and policy makers share similarities with short sighted gimmicks of ambitious politicians. Certainly they do not follow the models of business leaders like Narayan Murthy or Ratan Tata who have taken sustained efforts for many years to develop organizational practices and a learning culture. This is the way to fulfill stake holders’ expectations of the brand promise.
Sometimes management consultants- cum- trainers approach us with a proposal of a value adding course or module. Usually, it is about ITES, personality development or entrepreneurship. It raises a question whether an add- on module can offer value to the learning of students. According to the principles curriculum design methodology, unless the courses are vertically and horizontally integrated in design and delivery, learning is left to chance. In other words, value addition is not an arithmetic calculation but a synergetic process and involvement of faculty of all functional disciples is essential .To give an example from industry, the numerous suppliers of NANO could add value in the supply chain mainly because of their continuous involvement in the project from the design stage itself.
Hence it is necessary to learn how good companies in business have developed their brands and added value to their products and services. More importantly we need to recognize that young Indians are disappointed with the brand promises of higher education in public and private Universities. In recent years, the young are attracted towards foreign brands mainly because the promises of Indian institutes are not backed up with congruent behaviors on the campus. Some of the glaring weaknesses are: Unscientifically designed curriculum (a fragmented syllabus) , absence of investment in faculty development , myopic vision of management and an absence of an objective and merit based process of selection and evaluation of students and faculty.
It is ironic that when business organizations are moving towards flexible structures, talent management and learning cultures, higher education in India is moving towards more bureaucratic processes that breed a culture of cynicism and mediocrity.
We do not need newer or creative solutions to live up to the brand promises but we certainly need a commitment to solutions. Idioms of business can be a popular way to build brands in education but it would not make the brand famous or gain reputation. Fame and reputation is based on equity (fairness and justice) and mutual respect. It is an outcome of real and direct experience of people behind the brand .It cannot be manufactured by sending messages from media but on investment in people. It is the key factor of not only for HRM but of Brand- building as well.
Best practices in Business and Education are not different.