Sally Wilson, head of Alium’s newly formed interim Education practice, discusses some of the challenges facing UK universities today and how they are adapting to students who are increasingly becoming consumers.

“When I read recently that some of Britain’s top state students, who had initially gained placements at Oxford, voted with their feet and headed to the USA for their higher education, it brought to mind some of the real challenges that British HEIs are facing today.  The response by the students said that they felt the atmosphere at Oxford was “a little bit stuffy” with “no pleasantries and no handshake.” These elements may appear basic but should act as a cursory reminder of how all our UK universities are neither immune nor excluded from the economic realities of choice within a globalised marketplace for higher education.

“Keep Off The Grass!”

Combine this with an even more discerning iPhone generation and the demand for decent customer experience in exchange for a paid for service is not going away. The big question of how UK universities will respond to this challenge ought to remain paramount. The ‘Keep off the Grass’ title of the Oxford Fresher’s guide is in itself an interesting insight and indication into the British sense of humour and sense of properness in education - but alternatively, this stern approach can be seen as just a bit too much Downton of a bygone age.

Maximum Choice Moving Forward

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how universities embrace this brave new world of consumerism in the education sector. For the student, the plethora of choice could be construed as manna from heaven. The opportunity to apply the rules of economics that we apply to our daily lives - from supermarkets to browsing on-line – ought to bring yet unseen variety and the prerogative of the student to the fore – grades pending, of course.  In this student centric model, will the universities choose to respond? And if so, what will be their approach in the brand conscious age of the digital native?

Challenges Facing UK Universities - The Whole Experience

Some of the universities are currently looking to get their entry points right in terms of marketing and attraction. Yet the question of experience runs much deeper and usually will require a seamless journey throughout the duration of the student’s university life.

This brings in the core service delivery of the academic curriculum, but equally if not more importantly, the quality of elements such as the IT service provision, the rooms in which lectures and tutorials are delivered, the catering facilities, the support to find a job, the ability of the support staff to assist etc.  It is often these ‘non-core’ services that are frequently at the heart of perception of whether an experience was enjoyable or not.

The Student Customer

From the point of entry through to the receipt – hopefully of a first class degree – the notion of ‘student experience’ must not to be underrated.  Universities should take heed that many commercial and high street brands have fallen deeply by not understanding the emotiveness that can arise around whether a service was well experienced or not.

What is your experience of the British university system? What are your thoughts on the challenges facing UK universities? Do you agree with Sally? Share your thoughts below.

photo credit:hmm360 cc

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