Competition vs. Commercialization

Our speaker, Anna-Marion Bieri, got me thinking on Friday. How has the Bologna process affected competition between universities in Europe? It seems like the structure of the higher education system would have a definite impact. I mean, it does here in the states. The more privatized higher education becomes, the more competition increases. And that increased level of competition requires universities to think of ever-new ways of distinguishing themselves to attract the students, faculty, and funding that they need to survive. But, European higher education is different, obviously. So, how does their structure affect competition?

Anna-Marion’s answer was particularly intriguing. Well, I have to admit: The question I asked her was a bit of a leading question. She initially just agreed with me. I said that it seems like the changes that came with Bologna, like the ability to move between universities due to common recognition of degrees, would increase competition for both students and faculty. But, that competition for students would probably be limited more to the graduate level if students are still staying closer to home for their undergraduate degrees. But, then she added something else to the mix. She said that in Europe, universities are a lot less commercialized.

That’s what fascinates me, for a few reasons. First, the commercialization of higher education is no longer surprising for me (as a former undergraduate recruiter, development officer, and communicator). I know it’s happening. I don’t think all the effects are necessarily good, but I know it’s a response to the market. To survive here in the states, amid the increases in for-profit and community college enrollment and the constant attention paid to rankings and retention rates, universities almost have to embrace some business-like practices. The fact that it’s NOT like that in Europe makes me wonder if we’re doing something wrong…

Second, what does competition look like, then, if it’s not based in a commercialization effect? Anna-Marion agreed that competition had increased, but how does that manifest itself if not in business-like marketing and recruitment practices? I think that’s what I’ll be asking as we move through the various universities. Who are your “competitors?” And how does that competition manifest itself? How do you respond to it?

Finally, this all fascinates me because through my dissertation research, I know that there’s been a lot of research done about the concept of university identity and university branding in Western Europe. Much of what I’ve found for that portion of my lit review has originated from the UK and Netherlands (I think). These are case studies about universities changing their branded “identity,” particularly their visual identity. What role does branding and visual identity play then, in a competitive environment that isn’t “as commercial” as it is here in the U.S.?

So…no answers yet, but more defined questions for me as I start looking for some answers while we travel…