Fresh eyes

Education PR vital in time of cuts

Education PR vital in time of cuts
Simon Turner Freshfield Managing Director

Written by Simon Turner,
Chief Executive & Group Client Director at Freshfield

I recently attended an education conference in London which was fronted by some of the UK’s leading education writers and education PR specialists. The resounding theme of the day was the need for FE and HE providers to be upfront and responsive to the economic shakeup to the education sector and, for me, it all pointed towards the need for effective communications.

Since the Coalition Government took to the helm 12 months ago, both further education (FE) and higher education (HE) institutions have had budgets cut and provisions slashed in what is expected to be a 25 per cent cut to education spending in England over the next three years.

In these uncertain times, credibility, competence and trust will all be facilitated by rock solid communications. Be it a media briefing on the announcement of a university’s fees, comment from a principal on the latest cuts to affect students, or the launch of the latest course guide or prospectus, communication must cut through the confusion.

We’ve already seen nationwide student protests on the back of January’s closure of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) scheme. This has since been replaced by a new £180m bursary scheme which will be managed by the schools, colleges and training providers themselves. Again this has to be communicated effectively.

More student protests ensued as the Government’s HE policy unravelled, revealing that almost all direct state funding for university teaching will be abolished for new students from 2012. Institutions can, and a large majority are going to, charge up to £9,000 a year – almost three times the current amount. Again this has to be communicated and though some are doing it well, others are doing it badly.

And it’s not just student issues that require a communications plan. Just last month, university lecturers and further education tutors took to the picket line in protest of pension changes and pay freezes. These demonstrations were less violent than the student protest, but were still executed with the same determination.

What’s clear is that education will suffer the wrath of the Government’s spending cuts for many years to come. It’s now more important than ever to communicate with stakeholders and ensure that whatever a college or university is doing to support its learners is communicated to parents, prospective learners and the wider community.

Colleges and universities need to position their institution as the first choice for learners looking to be supported through their education and given the best possible chance to succeed when they enter the working world.

Education providers need to bring transparency to the grey areas – of which there will be many – until the university fees are in place and the FE bursary scheme has been rolled out.

While budgets may be diminishing – and that includes PR and marketing spend – it is now more important than ever to review communication strategies and ensure your communication is effective.

A robust communications strategy will ease education providers through these turbulent times and set them up for the best possible future, whatever the Government throws at us next.

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