Friday, August 04, 2006

UNE Strategic Planning - more on markets and marketing

Returning now to UNE strategic planning. The photograph shows a graduation procession of students in the early days of New England. Until the seventies, every UNE undergraduate student had to wear a green gown with gold bars pinned to the gown showing the year. Maybe we should have kept this.

After thinking it through, I have decided that I need to continue, risking mis-interpretation in my comments on UNE. It's just too important.

Since my last post I have also been asked to make comments on the financial challenges facing UNE. I will do so. In the meantime, in this post I want to extend my previous discussion on marketing and the markets open to UNE.

In my post UNE Strategic Planning - markets and marketing I posed a number of questions. Just to summarise some of these:

  1. How big UNE should aim to be? This is partly a question of the economics of service delivery, but is also a strategic question.
  2. Should the University consciously limit its size, increasing exclusivity? And would this work anyway given some of the issues raised in the discussion paper? Maybe not, but it's still a valid question.
  3. Where will the majority of UNE students come from? What does this mean for the university's role? Where will the specialist leading edges be? How do we integrate all this?

In the discussion I also used point and counterpoint between now and 1965 to draw out a simple point, that the University has in fact always been several different types of institution serving different markets with somewhat different cultures determined by the markets served.

I now want to extend this argument, again using the university of 1965 as my base. I do so simply because I understand that university better. The institution today is far larger and more complex, and I do not have the detailed on-ground information to be confident in my analysis. That said, I believe that I can use the analysis of the past to draw out issues of current relevance, to pose questions to those who do have the detailed knowledge of today.

We can break the New England of 1965 into the following overlapping components.

Core Undergraduate - general

The core focused on general undergraduate teaching in arts and science. While there were some overseas students, students generally came from the regional catchment area - Northern Tablelands, North West, North Coast as far south as Taree, some from the upper Hunter. Many students were training to be teachers.

As discussed, this student catchment pattern remains true today although there has in fact been some shrinkage in the regional coverage. I have suggested already that this has been due in part to a shift in the University's own focus, but it also reflects broadening regional tertiary competition. Details follow. I haven't fully checked the numbers.

In 1965 Newcastle had just gained full autonomy. Today Newcastle has, I think, around 24,000 students. There was a small Seventh Day adventist college at Avondale. This has now become a fully fledged if specialist institution with some 1000 places. Southern Cross has been established, with some 12,000 students.

In addition to these institutions, we also have the SAE Institute Byron Bay. I am not absolutely sure how this international private institute fits into the picture except that it clearly competes with the public institutions in certain areas.

Clearly, New England faces much greater competition in its regional marketplace. Further, the University's most immediate catchment area and also the focus of much of its current regional effort, the Northern Tablelands and North West, is both smaller in population and slower growing than either the Northern Rivers or Newcastle/lower Hunter.

We now need to factor demographic change in. The discussion paper refers to the general demographic picture, but we also need to understand change at a regional level. I have not had time to check numbers here. My impression based on the analysis my Group did in the lead up to the first Country Week is:

  1. Newcastle and the Hunter Valley have experienced above average population growth. Further, age structure is younger than the national average. So numbers in the traditional University entry level cohorts are growing.
  2. While the Mid North Coast has displayed rapid population growth, this has been driven by retirees. The age structure is older than the national average, while numbers in the traditional University entry level cohorts are projected to decline. However, the pattern is mixed with some places, Taree is an example, experiencing significant growth in working age population.
  3. The Northern Rivers have also displayed above average population growth with a better mix as compared to the Mid North Coast. My impression is that there is likely to be some growth in entry level cohorts.
  4. The Northern Tablelands and North West have displayed lower than average population growth, have older than average populations. This suggests at best slow growth in entry level age cohorts.

Demographic patterns do change as evidenced by the current pick-up in the national birth rate. However, the analysis to this point does allow me to pose a couple of basic questions:

  1. What is the current and projected population structure for the broader New England as I define it?
  2. What proportion of the potential regional student population would UNE need to get to meet its student targets?
  3. What are the core interests of that population?

Core Strategic Issue - cooperation and competition among New England's Universities

Flowing from this analysis, I now want to address what I believe to be a key strategic question, cooperation and competition among New England's universities.

Starting with a national context. If we look nationally, we find:

  1. Cooperation among certain of the big metro universities to try to establish dominant positions as compared to the rest.
  2. Regional students are far more willing to consider city options than metro students are to consider the regional alternative. The strategy paper pointed to this as an important issue given the large numbers of regional students coming to UNE.
  3. Metro universities giving preferential treatment to regional students as compared to metro students, thus accentuating the trend mentioned in 2.
  4. Metro universities establishing non-metro campuses, creating further fragmentation.

These four points raise some important general issues. For the moment, I want to focus on their implications for competition and cooperation among New England's universities.

All three public universities compete with each other for students. This will continue. But given the national trends described above, there are also strong grounds for enhanced cooperation to withstand the growing competitive reach of the metros.

Despite the trauma of the networked university period, a period that cost the traditional university dearly in financial terms and left heavy internal scarring, cooperation already exists. The establishment by Newcastle and UNE of a joint medical school at UNE is a recent good example.

I think that ways of extending that cooperation needs to be treated as a core strategic issue.

This has become a long post triggered by consideration of a single feature of the 1965 university. I will return to 1965 in my next post

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