THE Scholarly Web

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September 27, 2012

When the UK Border Agency withdrew London Metropolitan University's visa licence, much was written about the detrimental effect the decision could have on the image of Britain's universities for students abroad. But what of academics? To what extent do they value the international image of their university?

Adrian Mateo, marketing manager for the University of Nottingham's Faculty of Social Sciences, knows a thing or two about the importance of an "international brand": his university has campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia. In the Knowledge Without Borders blog, Mr Mateo discusses what scholars think about their university's "global brand", and what role it played in Nottingham academics' decision to take a job there.

"Universities are constantly bombarding us with their 'global', 'international' and 'worldwide' credentials. You can barely visit a website or pick up a prospectus without reading about their global reach, world changing activity or international impact," he writes. These assertions, he adds, have become as "much a part of their brand as academic excellence, outstanding research reputation and an exceptional student experience".

Mr Mateo acknowledges that the preoccupation with projecting "compelling external messages" is understandable from a student recruitment perspective, but adds: "Surely a university's brand should transcend a simple sales pitch? It must also encapsulate a set of shared organisational values that unite and motivate its staff."

According to research he carried out at his own institution, there is "often significant divergence between the values projected by the institution and those held by its academic staff". Although staff in Malaysia universally cited the international standing of the university as a "primary factor" in their decision to work there, academics in the UK and China saw it as far less important.

He writes that at the UK campus "its international standing appears to be of marginal importance compared to factors such as research profile, ranking, career development opportunities, physical environment and personal benefits". Meanwhile, Nottingham's status "as a British university far outweighed any influence its international reputation might have as an employment enticement", according to staff at the Ningbo (China) campus.

"The fact that academics in two thirds of its campuses did not consider the institution's international reputation as having any significant influence in their application decision should ring managerial alarm bells," Mr Mateo warns.

But perhaps more worryingly still, he found that 80 per cent of the faculty members - across all three campuses - admitted they had not read the university's "internationalisation strategy" either before or after they were appointed, which "suggests that its influence on shaping organisational culture and identity is limited".

Despite this, Mr Mateo uncovered a "sense of belonging to a genuinely international organisation" and recognition of the career development potential that it brings, across all three campuses. However, academics at the Malaysian and Ningbo campuses also voiced concerns of "UK dominance and an inequitable relationship in terms of employment conditions and strategic input".

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