Understanding your competitive market

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Briefing Note 1Understandingyour competitivemarketCompetition takes many forms. Tounderstand fully your institution’scompetitive challenges it is valuableto consider how well your institutionperforms against the range ofcompetition for students, staff,partnerships and fundingopportunities.By Rosemary Stamp: Director, StampConsultingWhat this isIn this briefing note, we consider thescope of the market within which HEIscompete. We consider seven keycompetitive factors and learn whatinstitutions need to do to respond totheir competitive challengeseffectively.Why it’s usefulAn accurate awareness of thecompetitive landscape in which weoperate is central to an understandingof our current institutional positioningplus the scope of future institutionalopportunities.Making it work for you1. Competitor institutionsWhile other HEIs may appear to be anobvious source of competition for all ofyour target audiences, it is highly unlikelythat you will compete with all of them, inall arenas. To understand the competitivelandscape in which your institutionoperates it is important to consider notonly those institutions that are currentcompetitors for any particular targetaudience, but also those that are:• Aspirant competitors: i.e. those thatmay become your competitors in thefuture.• Aspirational competitors i.e. thosethat you would wish to compete within the future.Competitor challenges come from a widevariety of sources: for example, the UKhas seen an exponential rise in UK-basedrecruitment activity from internationalcompetitor institutions based in NorthAmerica and Australasia.Sense check how well your institutionperforms and communicates itsproposition against those offering asimilar portfolio of programmes orservices.2. Private providersPrivate providers present newcompetitive challenges for highereducation institutions. For some of thefor-profit organisations operating in theUK, purpose built teaching and learningfacilities, competitive staff-student ratiosand the latest support infrastructure canbe at the centre of their distinctiveproposition: a powerful marketingadvantage in times of budget cuts withinthe UK public sector.Created on: 15 February, 2012


Briefing Note 2While the development of added valueservices, such as tailored career supportand work placements for specificgraduate disciplines, will be core to anyinstitution's ability to differentiate itsoffer, it is vital to keep up to date with thebenefits that others provide, too. Formany for-profits, for example, a clearfocus on niche portfolio areas, plus theinvolvement of practitioners as teachers,provide sought after advantages withmeasurable benefits for students. Inresponse, publicly funded institutionsmust be sure they communicate theiradded value services effectively and mustalso work hard to keep pace with theadded value initiatives that for-profitshave introduced.3. StudentsIn the recruitment of students, aninstitution not only competes with otherinstitutions, but also against otheropportunities and choices available topotential students.What other pathways might potentialstudents consider and how might yourinstitution demonstrate the value ofchoosing your programmes as theirpreferred option?What will you need to do to engage withstudents effectively and win theircommitment and motivation to study?Understanding what drives students’motivations to study, plus how and whereto reach them, is critical to success,especially if they fall outside thetraditional reach of post-16 education:i.e., if they are not in full time educationcurrently, or wish to return to educationafter a break from it (due to employmentor family commitments, for example). It isalso important to gain insight intochanging student demographics, changingstudent and employer needs and risingstudent expectations.4. The real meaning of “cost”While tuition fees are an overt cost andrelatively easy to compare, other factorspresent a critical competitive challengefor institutions. This is especially true forstudents returning to education after asignificant break or engaging in continuingprofessional development while in work.The competitive issue centres on whatthey must “exchange” in return for theiropportunity (and commitment) to study.Will enrolling on a programme mean theyneed to relinquish other activities or loseprecious time usually spent with theirfamily, for example? If so, the institutionneeds to be sure it can demonstrate thebenefits and value that will be gained inthe long term by making such a choice, aspotential students will make directcomparisons between these relativeinstitutional benefits.Cost competition can also centre on thetariff required for entry to study orresearch, whether qualifications or priorexperience, for example. Potentialstudents will short-list study destinations,in part, on those entry requirements itwill be realistically possible for them tomeet. In addition, their understanding ofan institution’s relative positioning againstothers in the sector will be informed by itsdeclared entry requirements. Forinstitutions, this means:• That the “cost” of entry needs to berealistic and also justified: theportfolio or programmes on offermust be seen to be “worth” the costof entry.• They need to benchmark competitoractivity to ensure that their entrytariffs are realistic for their marketplace setting.5. Teaching, learning and researchIncreasingly, the way that institutionsconduct their teaching, learning andresearch is a major factor of comparisonwhich influences decision-making aboutCreated on: 15 February, 2012


Briefing Note 3study destinations for potentialundergraduate and postgraduatestudents. This is especially so for researchstudents seeking a differentiated researchoffer (applied or intensive, for example)or international students wishing to studyin the UK and seeking a specific teachingor learning pedagogy that may beunavailable in their home countryinstitutions. E-learning, blended learningand teaching through virtual learningenvironments (VLEs) are increasinglyincluded within the institutional offer.To be competitively successful,institutions must ensure that theirteaching and learning methodologies arenot just innovative, but explained andcommunicated effectively and in a waythat enables potential students to makeinformed choices between one institutionand another.6. Education-to-business servicesResearch, knowledge transfer andconsultancy services are core activities formany institutions. Within this field, thecompetition faced is often from thecommercial sector. This demands a moresolutions-driven and business-focusedapproach from institutions.To be successful in this competitiveenvironment, key imperatives include theneed to benchmark commercial sectoractivity to inform the development ofservices that will respond to a known ordeveloping market need. In addition,institutions must demonstrate the agilityin action and planning that will enablethem to compete effectively with fastpaced commercial sector organisationsthat specialise in bringing new services tomarket swiftly.7. Staff recruitment and retentionThe need to attract and retain effective,well-qualified and motivated staff iscentral to long-term sustainable successfor organisations within or withouteducation. To do this effectively in ahighly competitive staff recruitmentmarket place, institutions need to identifyand communicate a differentiatedemployer proposition. This can includefactors ranging from institutionalreputation, the depth of the academicportfolio, the quality of infrastructure andinstitutional investment plans through topragmatic issues such as pensionprovision, regional property prices andthe quality of local schools: all possiblefactors of consideration in a potentialemployee’s application process.The institutional employer propositionneeds to harness the institution’s assetsand equity and articulate these in relationto the institution’s objectives in therecruitment, motivation and retention ofboth existing and future employees. To dothis effectively, it is critical to understandwhat factors of differentiation exist andhow clearly the institutional employeeoffer is differentiated from others withinits competitor set.Additional resourcesThe author of this paper has alsoproduced a range of Reports and BriefingPapers on:• Higher education competitiveness• Differentiation and branddevelopment• Competitor benchmarkingprocesses• Strategic institutional planninghttp://www.stampconsulting.co.ukFor insight on student demographics andstudent lifestyles:Mintel:http://oxygen.mintel.com/sinatra/oxygen/display/id=579268For insight on the developing UKknowledge economy:The Work Foundation: A Plan for Growthin the Knowledge Economy:Created on: 15 February, 2012


Briefing Note 4http://www.theworkfoundation.com/research/publications/publicationdetail.aspx?oItemId=290&parentPageID=102&PubType=For insight on student recruitmentpractices:JISC: Successful student recruitment:http://www.jisc.ac.uk/supportingyourinstitution/studentjourney/studentrecruitment.aspxFind out morewww.distinct.ac.uk has a growingresource section.Get involvedIf you have a case study, report, or otherresource you would like to share withcolleagues in the sector we would love tohear from you. Please contact us at:contact@distinct.ac.ukIf you would like to distribute thiscontent please contact the projectteam.© 2012 Distinct in Higher EducationCreated on: 15 February, 2012

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