My week - 31 March 2014 - Martin Holmes

Marketing Director Martin Holmes reflects on past and future recruitment challenges.

Martin Holmes

My week was shaped by a presentation to the Chartered Institute of Marketing on the Opportunities and Threats for Higher Education. During the week, as I kept putting off the moment when I needed to knuckle down and finalise my slides for submission, I took stock of the progress made in Leeds over the last few years on student recruitment and reflected upon how well prepared we are to face the future.

This was quite timely as I have also been summarising the key strategic issues which had emerged from the recent round of student number planning meetings as part of our Integrated Planning Process (IPE). At this point in the planning cycle, and whilst avoiding any risk of complacency, I think we are reasonably well positioned in terms of student recruitment for 2014/15 entry at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Competition in both home and international markets remains as aggressive as ever but the huge effort being made across campus to ensure the quality of the applicant experience is paying off and we are seeing the benefits of taking a very applicant-centric approach to all our recruitment activity.

In order to sustain this success we need to balance the focus being placed upon recruitment with a need to develop new and imaginative programmes which will attract high-quality applicants from both home and overseas markets. This will present some new challenges and, while these are not unique to Leeds, it will be important that we respond to them effectively. The three big issues as I see them are the way in which we develop new programmes that are aligned to external market opportunities rather than being determined by internal academic structures; the need to define propositions that appropriately balance academic content and co-curricular skills development; and the need to balance new programme development with rationalisation of the existing programme catalogue.

New market opportunities at both undergraduate and Master’s level will not always align with our internal academic structures. We can inadvertently create applicant confusion and internal competition between schools if we develop new programmes that are not informed by a thorough understanding of market demand and need. Equally we need to develop programmes that deliver distinctive value. This is increasingly achieved through inter-disciplinary programme development leveraging the strengths and breadth that we have in Leeds and the ongoing work through the Leeds curriculum project. In parallel, we have an opportunity to build upon the strength of the co-curricular offering through the ongoing development of LeedsforLife.

Whilst new proposition development represents an important opportunity, the active management and potential rationalisation of the existing programme offering is equally important. This process ensures that our programmes are continually tested to ensure they are responsive to an increasingly dynamic marketplace where patterns of demand are constantly changing. Importantly, it also helps to control support and administration costs and maximise investment in academic delivery.

My week culminated in attending a lecture given by Mike Barry, the Director of Plan A at Marks & Spencer. What was clearly evident from the talk was that the company regard ‘sustainability’ in their sector as being much broader than the ‘green environmental’ agenda. They are thinking hard about the socio, political and economic challenges of a world that by 2030 will have around 8 billion people in it and 9 billion by 2040. They’re thinking radically about what this means in terms of the leadership challenges this will present and the diversity of expertise that will be required to inform that response. It is into this world that many of our graduates will be hoping to take up positions of significant influence across the globe in commercial, social, political and public organisations over the next 15-20 years. This realisation caused me to pause and reflect upon how we are defining the opportunities and threats that might impact upon our external environment.

Whilst it is important to think about short-term pressure upon funding, the potential implications of A-Level reform and the impact of a general election, it’s also timely to think about the fact that the often used terminologies of ‘global grand challenges’ and ‘societal themes’, etc, that shape much of the presentation of the impact agenda in higher education, are also shaping the drivers of change that will impact upon the University of Leeds.  How should we start to think about the way in which we define our response to these challenges and what will our University be like in 2030?


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