On university politics – and email

So, as announced last week, I’m on my first real development day today. It’s a weird feeling not to be at work – while actually being at work in many ways: I got up at the same time as normal (the cat insists on this) but made a slightly more relaxed breakfast. This is a good start – no stress while eating and enough time for a hearty but healthy breakfast.

Then I went to the gym – a new plan, focusing on developing strength. This is the first time in about four years that I’m lifting heavier again. But then enough of that leisurely stuff – I went into town for my two appointments of today. I’m writing this blog entry between the two: first, I met up with a former colleague¬†and someone with questions about how to most effectively reach out to universities with their services. The discussion went quickly from a basic chat to a deep discussion about university politics.

A little bit of context: I’ve always been amazed by how different politics in academia and business seem to be. I’ve helped more than once with the transition of business professionals changing careers and becoming consultants, mentors, lecturers, and coaches. One of the hardest things about this for the individual seems to be that universities simply don’t work like businesses – however strong the push for marketisation and business-like thinking may be. For a while, a private employability company would even send me their business development managers for chats just about how different (read occasionally crazy) universities are.

And this goes beyond no one ever answering your emails – it is deeply engrained into our organisations, and two decades of business speak aren’t going to change this. While students have been learning to be consumers, universities in many ways are still fossilised in the way they see themselves – and the students. Just if you look at the way communications are often handled, or decisions cascaded, the mismatch is often glaringly obvious. This is not necessarily a question of a lack of willingness to be open and transparent – I have seen many good examples over the years of institutions reaching out to their student bodies with the best of intentions; alas often sending those emails which no one reads.

To cut the discussion short – it becomes clear to me once more how important an interactive online presence is. Our students mostly interact with the world through ridiculously small phone screens – and universities need to go where their students are: online, mobile, on the move, and with a propensity to pick and choose how (and if) they interact with you. Funnily enough, that ended up being my advice to the hopeful company who wants to reach out to students and universities alike: go where your customer is, and accept that the rules have changed through social media. And for everyone working with universities – get used to being super quick in reacting to students, and be patient with your university clients – there is a good chance they haven’t even read your email yet either.

October 13th, 2016 by