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Marketing 'as important as teaching';FE Focus

A new guide says promotion is a vital element that many colleges are neglecting - to their detriment. Ngaio Crequer reports

COLLEGES spend as little as pound;30 and as much as pound;140 per head recruiting students, according to a marketing guide published this week.

Budgets formally allocated to marketing, including staff salaries and expenses, range from below pound;20,000 to more than pound;250,000 a year. Moreover, budgets seem to be allocated on an historic basis, rather than as a proportion of enrolments or income.

The Good Practice Guide to Marketing is published by the Further Education Funding Council, in collaboration with the National Audit Office and the Department for Education and Employment. It says that well-targeted, effective marketing can be as important as high-quality teaching in building customer confidence in recruitment.

All staff should be involved in the marketing process, which should be a mainstream and not peripheral activity. Effective organisations adapted to their markets and not vice versa.

Marketing should be recognised as a strategic responsibility of the college corporation and senior management, not just something to delegate to a marketing unit. "The principal can encourage an institutional culture where the 'ownership' of strategy spreads through the organisation as a whole, and where curriculum leaders and other colleagues feel able to contribute at a strategic level.

"With responsibility comes the fostering of a 'can do' spirit among staff, encouraging innovation and learning from experience when some risks do not pay off," the guide says.

"Many mission statements indicate a commitment to quality assurance, and the principal may lead here by demonstrating this. Genuine and continuing review, and an all-pervasive regard for the needs of customers, rather than vested interests, are two important ways of doing so."

The more successful colleges were those where the principals and senior management teams regularly devoted time and attention to marketing issues. There was also value in engaging corporation members in the marketing plan and activities.

Their legal responsibility for the educational character and mission of the college meant that a strategic overview of marketing, in terms of the groups the college sought to serve, was very much a part of their business.

A crucial ingredient is a management information system. Colleges should have employer databases of corporate clients, know the unemployment count, the destination trends of school-leavers, and sometimes commission their own research.

One marketing manager scanned the press for newly appointed senior managers in her area. She wrote letters of congratulation to them and offered to discuss with them ways in which the college might be of service in the future.

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