Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Ahoj, 你好, Helló, أهلا, Daar, Powitanie, Buna ziua : Welcome to doing business abroad

Surprisingly,  internationalisation is off the SME agenda.   This is despite the documented benefits experienced by the so called “Born Global” companies.  These companies not only gain profitability as a result of internationalisation, they experience higher rates of growth and improved innovation.
Internationalisation offers your business larger product markets, improved productivity and an ability to diversify your organisation’s value chain potentially reducing risk to economic downturns.
It need not be a daunting exercise if you follow five simple steps that have been tried and tested by the author over 25 years in international development.
  1. Set your quest and goals
  2. Identify your value chain  and offer suitable for internationalisation
  3. Understand global production costs and your innovation inventory
  4. Develop your strategic capability and operational plan that will allow you identify and target local champions and advocates to support your cause
  5. Implement your plan ruthlessly through your local champion / manager and visit the targeted market frequently to monitor progress,  build trust and develop team motivation and loyalty through social as well as business events.
One of the most important elements of internationalisation [more at Welcome to doing business abroad ]

Delivering a new paradigm in management training


Graduates, perhaps at no other time in an economic cycle, require the ability to integrate and transfer their conceptual understanding to novel situations in a practical way.

The context in which one learns is a formative experience in promoting knowledge transfer.  If knowledge is taught in one dimension then it intrinsically places a barrier to adaptive and flexible learning and its application.  Alternatively, knowledge acquisition taught in multiple contexts promotes a student’s ability to assimilate, analyse, articulate and implement action plans.  This ability to extract knowledge and abstract the concepts and principles relevant to any given situation is undoubtedly promoted through a more flexible multi-context presentation of knowledge.  Furthermore, in a management and leadership development context it presents information in a form that will be more relevant to executive work patterns and operational requirements.

In an educational sense this requires commonality of experience and the conceptual frameworks of the learners and their tutors to ensure that the ability to move easily between the cognitive elements being described and the desired practical outcome is achievable. 

At the centre of Educational Academy’s (ea)  philosophy lies the concept of an integrated curriculum and this is particularly relevant to the demands of a modern career. The programme has been designed and developed from its very inception with this principle at the core of its curriculum.   The ea students may come from widely differing backgrounds and be seeking to qualify experience as a formal qualification, looking for career progression or indeed career preservation.  What ever their background they will bring their own level of personal contribution to the learning environment and ea’s global faculty will facilitate the translation of their knowledge and skills base across multiple context and concepts to develop the strategic corporate leaders of tomorrow.


It is hard to find a comparable offer in the UK whose curriculum and pedagogy is organised using ea’s truly integrated approach to knowledge transfer that seeks to integrate learning, contemporary leadership models, sector expertise and the pressure of corporate life into a single life changing experience.

An article in Business Week by Stefan Szymanski[1] about the effect of “silo” thinking on business schools curriculum highlights that they tend to teach individual disciplines such as accounting, finance or organisational behaviour.  This approach tends to develop a pedagogy that places heavy reliance on facts rather than provide insight or perspective on linkages between areas of potentially associated consequences.   Hence faculty find it difficult to find common threads on which to link subject areas and curriculum.   While tutors may be held in deep regard for their detailed insight and research into particular business issues these tended to develop within a framework re-enforcing isolated thinking from the business process and ignore the broad concepts of cycles and processes across the business as a whole.


A new paradigm is required to prepare executives in different forms of thinking and analysis that place greater emphasis on long term sustainability rather than short term profits.  It also asserts a longer term view of employment practices and employee reward, development and loyalty rather than always seeking to implement down sizing or off-shoring as the natural and obvious way to ensure business viability.  The future ability to deal with the global financial crises will not rest simply on better regulation to prevent it from happening again but it will be that the executive decision makers will have far greater skills in analysing complex multi-contextual issues such that they can build responsive and adaptable businesses.

Thus business schools need to re-invent their approach to learning and trust in the individual to grow and develop their understanding through learning within a multi-contextual and multi-dimensional curriculum.   This will build a generation of more reflective, more socially responsible and more multi-dimensional executives rather than simple dogma driven through classical business school teaching around single business models such as profit maximisation.   No longer is such a simple business model relevant in a post Enron or post global financial melt-down society.    

Business may be viewed as a way of life but business is only part of what makes up our civilisation and society.   A cohesive and integrated approach to social and human capital development are essential in laying the underpinning foundations for the development of society together with their faith structures and the charity of thought and support for others.    Therefore, it is time to revise corporate faith structures solely based around profit maximisation and greed because of their implied corrosive association to society and culture and bring a more tolerant and sustainable attitude to the integration of  business within a modern society.


As we move forward towards this new paradigm, ea has for over ten years has built it’s curriculum on these principles with its team specifically seeking to build an integrated approach to learning.  These build on concepts of the business as a system[2] [3] dependent on its environment or sometimes referred to as a Business Ecology[4] model.

Such approaches require executives to build on the nature of the inter-relatedness of business and society through their corporate and personal feedback mechanisms to re-enforce or limit the role business in society.  The basis for using a truly integrated approach to work has a long history and work done by Roedel et al.[5] indicates improvements in students test results when comparing tradition and integrated curriculum.

The use of concepts maps to represent how people organise their knowledge and the edges and concepts that link them can assist in looking at how a subject can be developed and knowledge transferred efficiently.

Why should an integrated approach to curriculum development be an important element in facilitating knowledge acquisition by the learner?   The basis appears to be based in the fact that as children we learn within multi-dimensional frameworks that teach us the relationship between word, letter, colours, moral parameters and societal boundaries.   MacNamara (1982)[7] in writing about early years learning highlighted a stage he referred to as the “discovery phase” where concepts are learned through patterns, objects or regularities in events etc.   Intuitively, a class room could seek to re-create this discovery phase to develop new aspects to conceptual learning. Thus concepts can be defined as perceived regularity (or pattern) in events or objects, or records of events or objects, designated by label.

Clearly patterns and regularities could be used as the basis for rote learning rather than meaningful learning.    Meaning learning builds a pathway to knowledge and wisdom as a result of the learner:

  • Being conceptually clear about the learning that has taken place and in any prepared material and able to articulate these clearly;
  • Having  sufficient prior knowledge is present on which to develop the necessary frames of reference and to develop further the critical thinking of the learner;
  • Should be motivated to learn and must want to engage and contribute to the process and how this translates into learning and knowledge acquisition.

This suggests that for meaningful learning to occur the students must grasp the basic concepts that underpin the knowledge being transferred and be able to express them in a coherent way.

Thus an integrated curriculum and the methods used to assess the learners’ progress can be developed to promote a positive and motivating learning experience that provides maximum opportunity to elaborate a range of conceptual frameworks and meaningful learning.

Boud (1993)[8] suggested that in order to turn experience into learning you require the following interrelationships to develop.

The learner
Every learner comes with their own experiential background.  In creating an integrated curriculum the learner plays an equal role in contributing to the success of multi-dimensional and multi-conceptual frameworks through their ability to interpret and relate these experiences to academic frameworks being developed or used.

The milieu
 Through participating in the integrated process learners and tutors contribute to the creation of learning and social environment that involves their contribution to the course, team working and active participation in course work.

Learning strategies
In delivering an integrated strategy the learning outcomes for the programme should relate to the individual learners learning strategy such that their experience of the programme satisfies their expectations, places demands on them to translate their experiences into relevant and appropriate intellectual rigour in answering and participating in class work, and draws together the tutor and the learners knowledge and experience in a mutually beneficial process of knowledge transfer.

Therefore, in preparing for the creation of the integrated curriculum it is important to ensure that staff are able to share a common vision, accept ownership of the integrated curriculum to be developed and understand how they will contribute and what is expected from them professionally.

At this induction stage academic leadership should provide an integrated rationale and a common vision to staff for the programme, provide an opportunity to formally share their background, knowledge and skills with the year group, articulate the knowledge and skills they seek to develop, learner strategies for taking control of their learning in the context of their professional responsibilities on the programme

In the creation of an integrated curriculum the candidate selection process also plays an important element to forming the foundation for a powerful integrated approach to learning.   Thus candidates recruited to the programme must consider their prior knowledge ad how this can contribute to the programme and bring their knowledge and skills into play to support their learning. 

Critical thinking at the induction stage is essential to ensure that students buy into the integrated learning process and understand what it entails.   Therefore it is important that through the recruitment and induction process they become familiar with what it means to study within an integrated curriculum, what their responsibilities are and that they are prepared to sign up to these as well as their obligations to their eventual study group and year group colleagues.

During this induction and recruitment process potential candidates will have been encouraged to reflect on their developmental needs around personal skills, professional skills and technical skills.  


All these activities above should have informed and re-enforced the integrated nature of the curriculum from the staff and students perspective.  In developing an integrated curriculum the delivery team will set out clear aims, responsibilities, curriculum development roles and administrative functions for the team.

An integrated curriculum example

A         Strategic Management Module integration

B          Banking & Finance pathway

From these concept maps it is possible to see the integration of the programmes.

Map A demonstrates the relationships between topics taught within the Strategic Management module and how each topic and subtopic can be seen to relate to others in the module.

Map B highlights the relationship between the core module topics of Strategic Management and Operational management and their coverage of general business principles along side the more specific pathway for Banking & Finance, covering Banking Management and Islamic Finance.  The relationship across specialist programme becomes clear as do the inter-relationships within topics and across topics.

The integrated pedagogy maximises the use of interactive styles of learning to promote knowledge transfer, knowledge transformation and reflection on of knowledge acquisition.

Building a portfolio of case studies, problem based learning, seminar and group working students are able to undertake autonomous learning while benefiting from study group activities.

Using this integrated form of learning promotes the development of skills to assimilate information across multiple contexts and to apply the concepts built up in innovative and creative ways.    Integrated assignment work and the associated formative and summative assessment systems then becomes a routine style of review and reflection of subject matter and its analysis.


From this paper the nature of an integrated curriculum should be seen to reflect the nature of normal business processes.   Individuals rarely encounter single dimension issues and it unlikely that their response will impact on only one element of the business operations.   Thus an integrated approach to learning and corporate development is an integrated approach to delivering a sustainable business.

Business is a complex inter-related and multi-dimensional system and most conventional business models seek to simplify and reduce business solutions to point interventions.  In contrast a new paradigm might be a more natural learning and development strategy that reflects “real business” and indeed personal challenges.  This will embrace a business model that accepts complexity and builds executive training and skills development in a way capable of handling and processing complex multi-level conceptual models and converting these into well analysed solutions capable of being implemented.

Such an approach to continuous professional develop minimises the risk of silo thinking, avoid group thinking[9] [10], provides a systems approach to operating business and relinquishes old profit maximising models for ones that transform their attitude to business based on trust and  shared values capable of building sustainable businesses.

Therefore, an integrated curriculum underpins an integrated corporate and individual development process that can only enhance business success and transformation.

[1] Szymanski, S., (2008) http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/content/dec2008/bs20081228_087566.htm
[2] Senge, P. M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline. The art and practice of the learning organization, London: Random House.
[3] Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Roth, G. and Smith, B. (1999) The Dance of Change: The Challenges of Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations, New York: Doubleday/Currency)

[4] Abe, J., M., Bassett, D.A., Dempsey, P.,E., Business Ecology: Giving Your Organization the Natural Edge (2008), Butterworth Heinemann.

[5]Roedel, R.J., El-Ghazaly, S. , Reeds Roads, T. and El-Sharawy, E. http://www.foundationcoalition.org/publications/journalpapers/fie98/1351.pdf
[7] Macnamara, J. (1982). Names for things: A study of human learning. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.
[8] Boud, J. (1993), Experience as a base for learning. Higher education research and development, Vol 19 (1) 33-44
[9] Janis, Irving L.  (1972). Victims of Groupthink.  New York: Houghton Mifflin.
[10] Ahlfinger, N. R. & Esser, J. K. (2001). Testing the groupthink model: Effects of promotional leadership and conformity predisposition. Social Behaviour & Personality: An International Journal, 29(1), 31-42.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Raising Tuition Fees is Bad Business

Academia is a business at the end of the day. Its raw material is knowledge and this is transformed into qualifications. It is subject to the laws of supply and demand just as any other business would be and more importantly the laws of income and expenditure.

The big issue with nearly all higher and further education establishments is matching expenditure to the value of the brand. Through years of mismanagement, arrogance and poor business sense, most academic organisations carry legacy overheads of forty percent. In the worst examples I have heard examples over eighty percent.

What does that mean? A degree currently costing £3,000 would have a real value of delivery of £1,800 and the remaining £1,200 going towards overheads. Overheads are what it costs to run the working environment. So all the academic managers and admin (staff), heating & lighting, legal fees, maintenance and any other cost you can think of to run the business.

Sidebar: What is worse is your degree is partially funded by the government. I am not sure on the exact ratio but in 2008 it was 110%. Meaning the “income” for the HE establishment was £6250. Later I will explain how your education is provided at a fraction of this with the rest being squandered by your HE institution on inefficiencies. For now though lets forget the funding and look at what you pay yourself.

What is unusual about that? Well commercial business run much smaller overheads with the average estimated to be around 10%. This keeps prices competitive and process and systems have to be efficient and lean.

Why is this important? A commercial training company delivering accredited degrees with its lean management structure will deliver education value of £2,700 and the overhead just £300. Assuming the degree can be delivered at the same quality as the academic model for the same money then it costs £1,800 to deliver and £900 would be profit.

What is the difference? Well it is about how a commercial company would handle a situation with a forty percent overhead. Good business dictates a rationalisation of the overheads until the value of the brand is not damaged and a sustainable profit can be made. Bad business would be to paper over the cracks, reduce the value of the brand and pass the additional cost of all of the inefficiencies on to the customer.

Why would business rationalise rather than make larger profits ? Market forces will determine how value of the education delivered is compared to price. The market itself operates on supply and demand and it is the market that dictates what customers are prepared to pay. Even where the value of the education delivered is high, too high a price will lose market share.

Why have the government raised the tuition fee cap? Simply, it is a far less complicated and difficult an exercise. Excessive overheads exist throughout government and are cultural as much as anything. Culture change takes time. They have gone someway to addressing the liabilities within the overheads by enforcing change through funding settlements and various changes to pension scheme.

What were they hoping to achieve? Ideally, more value to the tax payer and the beneficiary of the educational experience. Where funding is reduced by twenty percent then the overheads MUST reduce accordingly.

What implications are there with the raised cap? Students are consumers. In free competitive markets they can exercise their buying preference. Those institutions that address their overheads and become competitive and offer value for money will continue to exist, those that don’t will fail.

Will that affect the academic landscape? Yes! Where academic institutions do not meet customers expectations then the private sector educational providers will offer greater value for similar quality and price.

In conclusion the government may or may not have proposed an effective way to tackle the underlying sickness affecting higher education today. Too many me-too products from too many institutions offering little added value not least to UK plc but to career prospects of their graduates. However, it is also possible for institutions to fail and some will to the benefit of the consumer, tax payer and commercial providers.

Is it not about time this ethos should be expanded to every government department. As a one time student I say to my peers “You quiet rightly feel angry, ill treated and aggrieved but focus these frustrations towards the right place – Your Institutions. If any raise fees then it’s a clear sign given the margins involved that they do not value their consumer, YOU!”

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A passing storm or a window on disaster

PA Consulting has just reported on an online survey (A Passing Storm, or Permanent Climate Change? Vice-chancellors' Views on the Outlook for Universities.) of university VC’s.  The report variously reported that 74% of respondents thought it likely that a university will fail; 64% highlighted the growing gap between senior management and their staff and the inability to change staff attitude to change and 81% of respondents that it is at least probable that private universities will offer considerable competition in the near future.   
However, with only a 28% response rate it is a poor report to place any judgements on.  Indeed, the report is not telling us anything that was not already known but provides the HE sector with the opportunity to moan and fight amongst the Russell Group, the post 92 group etc.  A large section of university education in the UK is moribund and is seeking international student fees to keep it buoyant.  However, are all those seeking, capable of finding and delivering the appropriate experience for students and does it not distract our attention from the crisis in UK students’ ability to support UK plc.
Surely the argument is what is happening to tertiary education within the broad reach of UK plc education in comparison with our global competiveness and the real quality of graduates entering employment.  It is probably too strong to say that we have too many universities but we do have too many universities that are standing still or acting like grown up FE colleges.
We need the speciation of the tertiary sector, started under Thatcher, to be given some direction and assistance to make the transition downwards rather than always upwards. This does mean moving staff, intransigent or otherwise, out of the system and for managers to manage through performance those staff not up to the task.  HEFCE have not been empowered to do this despite several attempts to persuade some to re-assess their staff and product mix.  Let's celebrate and fund globally competitive research to be truly global but at the same time let's make sure teaching led institutions with very limited research activity but endless spoon feeding of students through the immaculate QA and pastoral support systems are helped to become transition or two year community universities / colleges.  This would complete a backward integration into secondary and vocational education that might make education foster independent thinking and capability across all levels of educational attainment to support the transformation of UK plc.
This might also reduce the enormous cost of remedial teaching that has to occur in tertiary education because of secondary educational failures.
Therefore, it is not about private versus public because we are a market based econom: the correct product mix will win through.  It is about ensuring UK plc gets maximum value from its investment from contributing to public or private universities tuition fees.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Educating in the face of economic cutbacks: the importance of marketing

Government borrowing to promote the recovery of UKplc from recession will have an enormous impact on the public sector over the next economic cycle.  The forecast budget reduction in Departmental spends are already cutting deep into the sector’s strategic planning processes.  However, it is perhaps important  to remember that research from previous major recessions[i] indicate that those companies continuing to invest in marketing activities through the recession gained market share over those competitors that reduced their spend.
Therefore, in the radical business transformation and recovery processes that will now be launched within the public sector it is important to ensure that efficiency gains obtained or proposed are not at the expense of capacity and capability to deliver the changes required.  Cutting staff resources in the absence of parallel infrastructure changes or product offer normally leads to inefficiencies in delivery and staff burn out as work flows actually do not diminish.
In this discussion with Dr. James Macaskill, who has successfully led two higher education and further education colleges through previous reforms, we talked about the role of Marketing and Communications during periods of change.
What do these changes mean for the Education sector?
Cut, cut, cut.  With universal agreement the most important aspect to any education sector is its reputation for delivering a high quality curriculum and employing motivated academic staff to engage and immerse students in studies that provide vital, vibrant and viable routes to learning and employment.  For any individual institution it will be managing this reputation within the niche market it is serving.   Public sector providers are coming under enormous pressure to change in response to industry criticism about the work readiness of students leaving teaching and learning institutions.
Thus the future Education sector will have to deal with less income from government sources, more competition from the private sector for profitable areas of delivery and generating more income from private or alternative sources of income.  They will have to come to terms with managing quality enhancement resources in different ways in general admissions procedures, curriculum development and in streamlining point of delivery and assessment methods.  Given the diversity of learning needs in the student population institutions will have to balance teaching time, quality assurance time and income generation time. Getting closure to the industries they serve will have to be a major activity to rebuild confidence in their ability to deliver work ready work force entrants.
Historically most institutions in the sector have based their business strategy on delivering an assumed annual allocation of central funds and recruited accordingly.  A few have chosen to develop new strategies of dynamic growth and development thus diluting their dependency on conventional funding streams.  Moving forward the certainty of these funding levels, year on year, is less clear and institutions will be forced to devise sustainable business strategies based on identifying and developing the demand side of their business while retaining core capacity to deliver the supply side requirements more efficiently.

What  part does Marketing have to play?
In an uncertain future, institutions are or become more risk averse and always tend towards a refuge of certainty.  However, moving forward institutions will need a wider appreciation of uncertainty and their Johari profile.  That is a higher probability of certainty is based on your understanding of uncertainty through  “known:knowns”, “unknown:knowns”, “known:unknowns” and “unknown:unknowns”.  This requires the buy in of all staff across the organization to adopt a marketing orientation and for the infrastructure to capture and track market related information.
This is a challenge for traditional marketing departments who have been primarily seen by the organization as a promotions and advertising service team.   New marketing departments have to have a more authority and an integrated approach with front of house, admissions and quality assurance systems and have authority within the institution to determine market responsive business strategies.  This will result in more effective market intelligence, better use of data in general and help build customer relationship data bases to understand market shifts or trends.
Managing brands through a recession[ii] requires
1.       Maintain level and volume of your marketing activity and where possible your budget to ensure your brand remains visible to your clients;
2.       Maintain contact with your clients and speak directly to them using your knowledge of their buying preferences to segment your market and through personalised mailings and sell your brand values not just product benefits;
3.       Automate your data and build up a customer relationship management system that improves the data mining and performance management capability for your marketing investment;
4.       Be innovative in your approach to the market and through new product development that allow you to quickly respond to market conditions ahead of your competition;
5.       Ensure an effective search engine marketing strategy is developed using branded and non-branded keywords.
What challenges does Marketing face?
One of the biggest challenges for education Marketing is the diverse range of target audiences  and customers for its services while ensuring a strong call to action and potent marketing message.  The recovery process will require key corporate decisions about centralizing marketing budgets or decentralizing marketing budgets as well as prioritizing high impact areas and building in measurable  parameters for the return on investment for the marketing budget deployed.
In a planning scenario where budget cuts are being sought marketers have to compensate for the absence of sufficient budget to cover all the demands arising from staff for their course recruitment activities and traditional media activities.  The available funds have to be stretched across lower cost web enabled services, social media and PR strategies.   Therefore, the main challenge facing marketing has to be preserving the market orientation of the organization while it is making budget savings across the organization.  However, managing social networks effectively and producing sufficient relevant information to distribute and gain traction is itself a time consuming activity.  Therefore, for the social media strategy to be effective it should be developed and communicated effectively to internal gatekeepers and embrace the students body to ensure that the required activity levels can be maintained consistently across the year.
An effective brand strategy is critical to ensure control of sub-brands, product ranges and their impact on the corporate brand and message.  However, does the business strategy require these sub-brands to compete against one another for resources or is the curriculum specialism the brand and therefore determines the niche marketing strategy.  Again key gatekeepers have to make choices in the strategies they pursue but should be informed by appropriate market information.
The brand strategy must be clear in its approach to internal brand communication and support the change programme to bring all staff on board. This is critical in moving the organization forward and in making customer facing staff comfortable with brand changes and relevant updates in information.   By providing a coherent internal branding strategy with easy access to online support there should be parallel improvements to customer service.
At a time where marketing budgets are increasingly under scrutiny it is crucial that education marketing plays its role efficiently in developing and deploying:
1              Brand Strategy;
2              Marketing and Communications Strategy ;
3              Social Media strategy.

[i] Alexander L Biel, “Converting Image into Equity” in Brand Equity and Advertising, ed. David A Aaker and Alexander L Biel ( Hillside, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993), 67-82.
[ii] JAMacAskill “Five tips to retain brand value through a recession” M4siz Limited white paper Spring 2010. (http:www.e-ducational.com/index_files/brandvalue.htm


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