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Branding higher education

Norwegian universities spend a lot of resources trying to gain the attention of prospective students.

Studentrekruttering Åpen dag
Photo:
Emil Breistein, UiB

Universities and university colleges are constantly trying to convince prospective students that their institution is a good choice for a place of study.

But will the information provided by such higher education institutions make youth wiser? Probably not, according to an article published in the latest issue of the journal Nordiske Organisasjonsstudier.

Striking similarity

Daniel Nygård is a research coordinator at the Center for Research on Discretion and Paternalism and a former master's student at the Department of Administration and Organization Theory.

He has written the article "Omdømmehåndtering i høyere utdanning" [Reputation Management in Higher Education] with Hogne Sataøen of Örebro University.

In the article, they analyze how nine Norwegian universities and university colleges describe themselves in viewbooks aimed at prospective students.

- The different higher education institutions appear to be very similar in how they present themselves to students. You can experience an active student environment, high quality teaching, and high job relevance regardless of where you study, at least if we are to believe the institutions' own descriptions, says Nygård.

Reputation management in academia

Reputation and brand have become important for many organizations. Some research suggests that the dominant recommendations for good reputation management, often developed in a private sector context, cannot be directly transferred to public organizations.

- We find that higher education institutions often communicate a complex, diverse, and sometimes even contradictory profile. Further, we find  only a limited degree of sharp distinctions towards competitors, Nygård states.

The ambiguous profile and lack of distinction towards competing institutions is not in line with dominating recommendations in management literature on reputation management, which claim that a strong reputation is built through consistent communication and the promotion of unique qualities of the organization.

- We ask if the findings signalize an institutionalization of the image of characteristics a “good higher education institution” must possess, limiting the space for reputation building through a more coherent and unique profile, says Nygård.

The authors argue that reputation management in higher education institutions are different to other organizations, especially to private companies, in that they must pay attention to more diverse and often conflicting goals and values and integrate them in their communication.