HIGHER EDUCATION – THE MARKETERS UNDERSTAND SEGMENTATION BUT AS FOR THE FACULTY?
This is the third in a series of blogs based on my book – Excellence in Business School Teaching Insights and Recommendations for Faculty, Deans and Directors.I want to highlight how HE sellers understand markets, but HE deliverers largely do not – and this can have serious implications for student satisfaction and success.
In many years of working at business schools, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with faculty who deliver the product and marketers who largely sell it. As a marketer by profession, the whole notion of market segmentation, understanding particular groups to target and their distinctiveness amongst these groups is second nature. Marketers at business schools are very good at identifying such market opportunities and tailoring the message accordingly. That’s why so many business schools have international offices and representatives. You need to be able to talk to prospective students in the language they understand, understand what to say and importantly, how to sell to them.
But this practice does not seem to translate into the lecture theatre, into the minds and consciousness of faculty. Many times I’ve listened to students who have said that certain faculty members just didn’t understand them as people, didn’t understand their culture. This is bad enough if you are a student travelling to the UK to be taught. It’s even worse if you’re a faculty member travelling to one of your business school’s international locations where you are parachuted in to an already existing culture. Students would expect you to be able to understand.
Diverse international segments – being taught together
At home, international students make up the majority of business school post graduate places. But international students are a diverse body. Western European, American, Australian students, will be demonstrably confident, used to arguing and discussing and never afraid of stating an opinion. Students coming from South East Asia will have been brought up to listen to the teacher, to write down what he or she says, not to ask questions and certainly not to argue. This is all obvious stuff and yet so frequently the teacher arrives in the class and goes straight into one mode of teaching – for everyone. This can result in two stream teaching where it’s much easier to engage with those eager westernised students. Why push those other who don’t appear to want to engage? The issue is it’s not that they don’t want to engage, it’s that they don’t quite know how and are nervous about losing face. Recognise these differences and work with them. All students have their own relative strengths.
Think of MBAs as a homogeneous group – at your peril!
And of course, segmentation is not just international. It’s different students having different requirements and needs. A good example is MBA students. Many faculty just think of them as a homogeneous group. But some MBA students are different from others. Full timers are likely to be in their mid-20s to early 30s, have taken a career break and might well be career changers. They want to be immersed in the subject matter, working typical 9 – 9 days. Contrast this with executive MBA students. They’re more likely to be in their mid-30s to 40s. They’ll already be successful, but in a specialist type of way. They want that rounded understanding of business but, unlike the full time group, they have so many other pressures – a demanding job and quite often a demanding family life as well. Whereas the full timers want the MBA, indeed expect the MBA to dominate their life, part timers need it to fit in with the rest of their life.
I’ve spoken to many faculty who enjoy teaching the full timers but not the execs. Why? Firstly, because they rarely do the pre-course preparation asked of them. Second, they are pretty vocal if they don’t find the teaching up to the standards they are expecting. Faculty just see them as complainers. The reality is anything but. They have different lives from full timers, different pressures and, in general, much wider management experience than the faculty who teach them.
Final year under graduates – engage with both placement and non placement students
Finally, what about under graduate students? There’s a massive difference between first year and final year students and in the final year, there’s a massive difference between those students who’ve gone out on a one year placement and those who have just moved from year 2 to year 3. Those placement students come back highly motivated, raring to go, hard working and, will frequently have had more recent work experience than the faculty teaching them! But those students who’ve gone straight into year 3 will have none of these. They’ll have studied well but they’ll have partied well and they’ll be less mature. Many times faculty say I just love teaching these returning students, but don’t like the students who are just sailing through. Or sometimes faculty say I really don’t like to teach these returning students – they think they know everything, they’re always asking questions, they’re always looking as though they already know the answers. Very rarely do faculty use the mix of students they now find in the final year in order to create a really exciting teaching environment, mixing up returning students with sail through students. Making sure that they leverage the experiences of the returning students whilst not alienating the sail throughs who have their own experiences as customers and through part time jobs.
So how should faculty approach segmentation?
- Familiarise yourselves with the principles of segmentation
- Understand the motivations of each segment you teach
- Understand the differences in behaviour between each segment
- Don’t take the easy way out, by only engaging with those segments who find it easy to engage
Get this right and you’ll have loyal, happy, motivated students. Get it wrong and it will always be the us and them mentality. Us faculty, them that homogeneous group of students (we think).
If you’d like to know more about my research, please do download my book Excellence in Business School Teaching – Click here or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about our 8 Bite Sized Workshops in a Day programme where we can deliver up to eight best practice teaching workshops in one day with faculty selecting what they’ll find most useful.