Marketing is a poor game plan 1

October 29, 2004

Steven Schwartz's article on university marketing is a much overdue critique of approaches to "getting bums on seats" (Soapbox, October 22). However, we should not look solely at the marketing arm, which reflects what is fed to it through various channels, but also at the degree offerings themselves.

It has become fashionable to offer programmes designed to appeal to a younger generation that does not have the skills to critically analyse their content or the consequences of holding a trendy degree without the hope of a job in the area specified.

The Government-led demand for so-called vocational degrees is leading the modern university sector, in particular, to offer degrees in areas where three years from now few jobs will exist. Degrees are being offered without any serious market research being carried out. These are often based on academic (and other) staff perceptions focused on internal discussions and based on local industry's focus on immediate need.

Let me illustrate: in the UK, there are 128 institutions offering computer games-related programmes through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service at undergraduate level and a further nine at postgraduate level.

Assuming each course is viable, we could expect on average 25 students per programme. This is about 3,200 undergraduates and 225 postgraduates a year hoping to enter the computer games market when they commence their studies.

If you look at a recent report for the Department for Trade and Industry and the Skillset Census Results 2003, you will note that 6,900 people are employed in the games area in the UK, which is growing in personnel numbers at only 2 per cent a year. That is a yearly requirement for 138 new staff (including cleaners). Even if they all came from the UK, outsourcing and offshoring of development would seriously undermine the development jobs available. Most graduates would probably have to seek their fortune in allied areas.

But do we believe that this title will have the same credibility in other industries? Is the vocational sector really convinced its graduates will enter the games industry?

I have chosen the games area but there are others that make one suspect the nature of a vocational degree. Maybe King Canute when knee-deep in the sea wanted to know where his surf management advisers went to university.

David E.Cook

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