Hard sell 'is acceptable'

November 5, 2004

Universities must adapt to the modern consumer culture and should not be shy of "courting" prospective students and their parents through the hard sell, the admissions dean at a top US university said this week.

Marilee Jones of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was due to tell a conference in London on Friday that a generation of young people who are used to companies pitching commercial products will not be "offended" by being approached by universities.

Before the conference, Ms Jones said she planned to outline the differences between "the five generations of the 20th century" and how "great social forces of the time" influenced their view of higher education.

"A fundamental concept is that students and their parents see themselves as consumers now," she said. "Education costs more money, young people are used to being courted by marketeers who wish to sell them music, clothing and so on, so they are not offended by being courted by universities.

"Baby boomer parents on both sides of the Atlantic live vicariously through our kids and feel flattered by the attention our kids receive, since we know how special our kids really are. These cultural influences have created a very different atmosphere for university personnel, who must consider the need for recruitment."

Ms Jones will tell the conference, organised by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education: "One person's marketing is another person's truth. I will talk of the concept of marketing as not 'spin', but of characterising the essence of the university culture."

At a separate marketing conference in London earlier this month, Virginia Isaac, director of marketing for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said that what institutions had to say about the "whole student experience" and not just the price of courses would become increasingly important from 2006.

Ms Isaac talked of the "easyJet syndrome", whereby discounts could be offered by universities eager to fill places during clearing, which would lead to students being charged different amounts for the same course.

"This begs lots of issues - and so far I have not had an answer - as to whether fees will or could vary as the admissions cycle progresses and, perhaps, as institutions find that they are having difficulty filling specific courses," she said.

"Will students start bargaining for places?"

Ms Isaac, who stressed that her conference speech reflected her personal views, added: "Ucas would certainly like to be able to publish the fees charged by all the universities, but we would have to make sure that this does not cause institutions to vary their prices once they see what others are charging."

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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