How Macquarie University is leveraging innovative partnerships to drive revenue

After day two of Higher Education Revenue Models, it seems there is a general consensus among people in the room that the key to successful adaptation ofthe major upcoming changes to funding and higher education policy will be to evolve revenue models.

While there has been a lot of talk at the conference about how to make universities more commercial in a changing marketplace, one presentation that stood out was the case study on Macquarie University’s Big History Institute.

Andrew McKenna, Executive Director of the Big History Institute took the stage and explored how the university is engaging in partnerships with government, non-for profit and business sectors to collaboratively develop an innovative research program which has had big results for the university’s bottom line.

According to McKenna, the traditional notion and function of a university is changing. As a result, universities must engage with the community in research projects to remain relevant in a competitive environment.

“The core idea of the university as we know it is under assault from outside forces and requires a carefully thought response from universities,” he said.

And if the Big History Instituteis anything to go by, Macquarie University is responding in all the right ways by expanding the concept of the community and raising the university’s profile amongst the private, public, non-for profit and government sectors.

“It’s easier to see the value of a community from the inside. From the inside, it’s easier to become involved, share ideas, collaborate and then support the community from a funding point of view,” McKenna said.

Big History has been taught at Macquarie University since 1989, and with the establishment of the Big History Institute in 2012, Macquarie University has successfully  expanded their community and engaged in partnerships with many other universities and other organisations to drive engagement and revenue.

McKenna says that the key to successful expansion and working in partnership with other organisations is engagement, connection and value creation within the community they already have: past alumni and students.

“Whilst corporations race to convert customers to community members. Universities need to step back and realise the value they already have within their existing communities.

Universities are incredibly complex organisations and as such they need a grand strategy and vision which can continually unite communities across research, engagement, corporate and international portfolios,” he said.

The university is also leveraging international relationships to drive and expand the the institute.

Macquarie University’s Professor David Christian, founder of Big History, has received support from philanthropist Bill Gates, with whom he co-founded the Big History Project, a free online resource aimed at high-school students, in 2011.  “The Big History Institute is dedicated to disseminating Big History to a wide global audience. We are committed to outreach efforts with schools and communities around the world to promote the study of Big History,” said McKenna.

Higher Education Revenue Models took place 26 – 27 November this week in Sydney. If you’re interested in finding out more about the conference or our future higher education events follow us on LinkedIn or email



Why universities must ‘think like a business’ to survive in a changing market

Upcoming funding changes to higher education policy have seen a dramatic shift in the strategic direction of universities in Australia.

Whilst the role of a university has always been diverse; from teaching to research and community engagement, we’re now seeing a new function emerging – the notion of a university as a commercial entity.

The challenge universities are now faced with is how to effectively plan and evolve revenue models in order to successfully adapt to the major upcoming funding changes.

According to Kelly Smith, Director of the International Centre at the University of Western Australia (UWA), the key to achieving this will be to ‘think like a business.’

“Students are viewing themselves as consumers, which is going to become a much more pointy-ended issue as we move into the fee-deregulated space. Universities need to think about the way they engage in the same way all big and successful organisations do,” he said.

While most universities remain silent on details and strategy towards new fees, UWA is one of the big players in the sector quickly moving to respond to the government’s planned policy changes.

Earlier this month, the university became the first in Australia to announce its proposed pricing in the context of the government’s planned deregulation of student fees in 2016. This followed extensive modelling of different options and likely impacts at a course and institutional level.

The new pricing model means that students will be paying more come 2016; at a new price of $16,000 per year in an undergraduate study and about double the current average fee.

While the fees will vary from university to university, overall, the Federal Government’s higher education reforms, still to get the support of the Senate; mean the cost of a degree will go up at least 30% and as much as 60% more in some cases.

According to Alec Cameron, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (education) at UWA, the increase in price is necessary to ensure the stability and commercial viability of the university in the future, as the industry becomes more competitive.

“The sector has consistently and validly argued that we are underfunded; our proposed pricing model addresses the accumulated funding deficit, by taking the responsibility to set fees at the level we believe is necessary for the university’s future,” he said.

Cameron also says there were a number of factors taken into consideration when creating this new model.

“Our price of $16,000 per year of undergraduate study in 2016 is, of course, higher than current student contributions. In setting this price, we were conscious of: the reductions in cluster funding in the proposed current legislation; the withdrawal of funding from the sector by the previous government; and the Bradley and Lomax-Smith reports commissioned by the previous government, both of which identified underfunding of the sector,” he said.

The university’s decision to act so quickly in response to policy changes was primarily driven by then need to inform prospective students about their plans in the event of deregulation.

“We intend that our pricing is simple and transparent to students. Given recent discussion about the opacity of actual entry standards at universities, and the potential for similar complexity and opacity in pricing models, UWA sees simplicity and transparency in pricing and entry standards as highly valued-principles that we are offering to students,” said Cameron.

While putting the student at front of mind appears to be a central part of UWA’s new pricing, Stephen Weller, Chief Operating Office & Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Corporate) at the Australian Catholic University, warns there will be a whole new set of challenges that will arise as a result – the main one being a change in expectations.

“From a university perspective, we’ll get the same amount of money, because we’ll pass the cost on. Many students aren’t asking what it’s going to look like in 2016. There’s more concern around HECS.

When people start to pay more, they will expect more. There’s clearly an issue of expectation management. It’s an area where the sector has significantly improved over the last four years, because it’s moved into a competitive environment. But there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.

So how does meeting student expectations equate to higher revenue? The answer is improved satisfaction will ultimately lead to more business and more customers, just like any other commercial organisation.

“Universities are either incredibly bureaucratic or incredibly resilient. My view is they’re both. They can be slow to move; they’re traditional institutions. But they don’t have to be. We responded to amalgamations and demand, and as a result our university has grown from 12,000 to 30,000 students,” said Weller.

With students previously basing their decisions around questions like ‘what experience am I getting’ change will see the concept of ‘what price am I paying’ arise. If the demand-driven system is also extended to private providers, it’s really going to put the emphasis on value.

As a result, universities need to think about how to deliver on expectations in a consumer driven environment, and how to market price whilst meeting these expectations.

“That whole notion of how you bundle price and meet expectation is new to the sector in Higher Ed. It’s also new to the consumer. The key message I would say is: you have to be student-centric. You can’t just say it. Put the student at the centre of your business and ask yourself: what is the student’s return on investment? What are they going to get that makes us a better proposition than another university?” said Weller.

This notion is echoed by Smith, who says UWA embracing all things digital in order to capture a holistic view of the entire student life-cycle to meet changing expectations.

“The digitally savvy student is really a digitally savvy consumer. Universities must embrace this in order to engage students on the right levels and improve ROI. With an increase in price, students will expect more in return – a big part of this is delivering quick responses to students in an engaged, online environment,” he said.

The Monash approach to student marketing and recruitment

International student recruitment has always played a prominent role in Australia, both socially and economically – and with looming policy changes, that role is about to become even bigger.

The federal government’s proposed deregulation of fees has forced universities to reassess their approach to funding models. As a result, international student recruitment has become a dominant player in the way universities can source additional revenue in a changing market.

International Education is currently Australia’s highest earning service export, with data from Australian Department of Education for the year ending June 2014 indicating a 12 per cent increase in enrollments; compared with the same period in 2013.

While this recent growth is encouraging, it highlights just how competitive the market has become. Now more than ever, universities need to refine their international student recruitment strategies in order to boost numbers and remain viable.

Monash University is one institution that appears to have gotten the approach right when it comes to marketing for international students.

By adopting a non-traditional ‘student centric’ strategy, they have seen both their domestic and international student enrollments increase dramatically over the last 12 months.

We recently chatted to David Buckingham, Vice President of Marketing and Communications and student recruitment at Monash University who shared a few tips about why their strategy has worked and how it translated directly into ROI:

Put the student at the heart of everything you do

A big factor in Monash’s success is their ability to make the student the centre of interest in the whole marketing process. David says the core of this student centric approach is asking the questions: what does the student need, what does the student want, what is the student looking for; and then figuring out how to meet those expectations.

Invest in new channels

It’s old news that in order to reach the ‘digital student’ institutions must engage with them in the new channels they are active on. But this is sometimes easier said than done in an environment where traditional approaches are favoured rather than embracing the ‘new.’

David says in a rapidly changing environment embracing digital marketing and its associated techniques is vital to any student marketing strategy.

“The way that we go to market is rapidly changing. Since Monash has started investing in new channels and techniques, such as social media; we are in fact finding that what may have applied years ago is no longer relevant. It is a new style of approach to marketing and communication,” David says.

Change your mindset

Monash’s change to a new marketing approach began with shifting their focus from institutional preoccupations to student needs and orientation. This meant bringing in an external orientation that required a different mindset, a different way of thinking about the market, a different way of thinking about needs and adjusting accordingly.

“The capacity to do this effectively goes right to the heart of the cultural agenda that modern day institutions have to be clearly on top of if they want to be effective,” says David.

Train your staff

It may sound straight forward, but no change in strategy will work if the staff are not on board. David says its important staff are equipped with an understanding of all elements of the strategy, and the tools needed to action changes.

When transitioning to a student centric marketing approach, Monash put in place specific training, mentoring and support programmes to ensure their staff were up to date will what was happening.

“We see it as important that staff know they’re not dealing with the unknown and they can actually engage and experience. Understanding that often means brining people in from a non-university background to assist in the mindset and orientation that the new methods and approaches require,” he says.

David will be presenting at the upcoming International Student and Marketing Conference later this year.

To blend or not to blend?

Blended learning isn’t a new concept in the Higher Ed world. Everyone knows blended learning can provide massive benefits to student learning outcomes and experience – and many universities across Australia are already knee-deep into the process of filtering blended learning practices throughout their courses.

At Blended Learning 2014, it was pretty clear that everyone there was aware what blended is all about. But the big question educators in the room were wrestling with is how to actually design an effective blend.

“The question is not whether to blend or not to blend. It’s how do we design an effective blend which is the big question we are trying to grapple with,” said Professor Amanda Carbone from Monash University in this morning’s keynote address.

So what goes into designing an effective ‘blend’?

According to Professor Carbone there are two major considerations:

  1. How do you decide on the proportion of online to face-to-face components to incorporate into the blended course?
  2. How do you decide on what is the most appropriate delivery method?

When it comes to deciding online versus face-to-face learning, Shane Jeffery, A/Manager New Learning Technologies at TAFE New South Western Sydney Institute says online must be developed first to get the best results – for both students and teachers.

“The reason that we strive for an online first mentality is because it gives us the most options for our customers. Build online once as best as possible then use that core resource as many ways as you can. It’s then up to the skill of the teacher to take that online resource and make it meaningful for students in different locations,” he said.

Another concept which has been explored over the course of the conference, is ‘learning design’ as a tool for creating a good ‘blend.’

James Dalziel, founder of LAMS at Macquarie University, believes learning design can play a big role in helping to determine how to incorporate online and face-to-face learning into a course.

“Learning design has a lot to offer as a blended learning as an area, but what really matters is what is the key thing you want to achieve with students? When is technology most useful and when is face-to-face contact most useful? That’s the decision that determines which bits of the learning design will be online or face-to-face,” he said.

Overall it’s clear blended has a bright future in Higher Ed, but it will come down to the way we design blended that will have the real impact on student learning in the future.