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This report is about how the University of Sheffield is promoting itself in the growing Syrian students market. The interest in the Syrian student market shown by the different universities in the UK is clearly growing. Although higher education in the UK is becoming a goal for every scholar as it is known of high quality and ability of self-promotion, there are various complex factors that play an important role in marketing higher education, especially in an unstable market that is affected by so many variables in the world.
The University of Sheffield is trying to understand these factors and variables in order to promote itself in such a promising market.
The company back ground
The University of Sheffield is recognized as a top university across the board according to the 2010 virgin guide to British universities (Sheffield University official website, 2010)
The University of Sheffield was granted Royal Charter in 1905 and opened by King Edward VII, won four Queen's Anniversary Prizes in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2007(Sheffield university official website, 2010)
It was the host of 5 Nobel Prize winners, and it is rated by 'the complete university guide' as the 22nd university for the year 2010. ( The complete university guide, 2010)
It is also a member of the Russell group, The Russell Group represents 20 leading UK universities which are committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector (the Russell group, 2010).
Recently, despite the fact that University of Sheffield is a very well known university worldwide, is trying to expand its reputation and its market, with special attention to the developing countries, Arabic countries in particular. The University of Sheffield has a long established relationship with Syria and it has been welcoming students for many decades (Sheffield University official website, 2010)
It is important to consider that applying the theories of corporation marketing onto this case may not exactly be accurate or even applicable, because marketing higher education is not exactly similar to other products. However, the potential benefits of applying marketing theories and concepts are gradually being recognized by researchers in the field of higher education marketing (Hemsley-Brown& Oplatka, 2006).
Therefore, every team should take the time to study the factors that affect the marketing strategy they choose to approach their market, and may have an impact the organization and on that market, such factors are called: environment
We can divide the environment into micro and macro environment.
The macro environment:
The macro-environment is all the characteristics of the market that affect any firm trying to enter this market.
THE MACRO ENVIRONMENT includes "the major forces that act not only on the firm itself, but also on its competitors" (Blyth, J. 1998, pp.23) .
Such factors are usually referred to as PEST factors, which are political, economical, social, and technological.
It is widely known that the political relations between Syria and the UK are unstable. Now things are changing, there's more openness from both sides, especially on the cultural level, considering that the Syrian president and his wife were both educated in the UK, they have more appreciation of the British education system ( BBC news, 2010)
Undoubtedly, the international student tuition fee (which is almost double the home fee) is an important source of income to the country. However, this represents a problem for the Syrian students, who are mainly from the lower middle class (Nationmaster.com, 2010). Most Syrian students can't afford the expenses of studying and living in the UK.
There are, however, sponsorship schemes by the Syrian government, for students to study in the UK, which includes the tuition fees and the living expenses, and there are a few organizations that offer scholarships for the very highly qualified academics, such as :
Karim Rida Said foundation, Agha Khan foundation and Chevening, and of course with the help of the British Council (the British council/Syria, 2010)
Nevertheless, the government prefers to sponsor students to go to the European countries in favor of the low costs in addition to the political relations which are reasonably stable.
Despite the economical factor, the numbers of Syrian students applying and coming to the UK to acquire higher education is increasing slightly every year (Ireton, S. 2010)
People are now more aware of the quality of British degree, which is now recognized in the Syrian society as very respectable and prestigious especially if it is a degree of a highly ranked university (such as the University of Sheffield).
It is also noticeable that the number of female applicants is high, even though Syria is a Muslim country in which females find it difficult to acquire higher education in a foreign country.
In this respect, the Syrian first lady has established a funding board that helps young Syrian girls by providing funding for them to study in the UK. (Ali, S. 2010)
Syria is trying to stay up-to-date with the latest technological trends. Nevertheless, there are still many people who are technologically illiterate, especially that the education system in Syria is still paper based.
Keeping in mind that new curriculums for young students in Syria do include intensive computer training, and the new generations are very promising to be highly qualified technologically, which will allow them to cope with any virtual environment they may encounter ( Ministry of education official website).
The micro environment:
The micro-environment comprises of the elements of factors that affect the firm and usually its industry, but which do not affect all firms in all industries (Blythe, 2006)
"An institution which is not competitive will fail to attract ample resources, good students or, indeed, the highest caliber of staff. It can then decline in external prestige and internal morale" ( P.G.Moore, 1989, p.118)
The university of Sheffield is in the competition for higher rankings every year. It is rated 10th in the UK, 28th in Europe, and 88th in the world in an annual academic ranking of the top 500 universities worldwide published in August 2010 by Shanghai Jiao Tong University (University of Sheffield, 2010)
Sheffield University is mainly competitive in the research area, so its main competitors are the Universities of Manchester, Leeds and Southampton.
There's also tough competition with the University of Warwick for the best management school, which is very appealing to the Syrian students.
On the other hand, the university of Sheffield is not a part of the ' capacity building agreement' in which UK universities agree to give discounts for the Syrian students in cooperation with the British council, and will not be before the year 2013(Ireton, S. 2010).
However, the university does give automatic discounts for the Syrian students of about 10% of the tuition fees and could be more depending on merit, which is almost equivalent to the discount provided by other universities (Ireton, S. 2010)
At the same time, the university of Sheffield faces stiff competition from the universities in both France and Germany over the Syrian students and the government is sponsoring more students to go there, but at the same time, it represents a challenge to learn a new language rather than coming to the UK where they already have learnt English at schools, which in turn saves them time and effort.
The university has taken major steps in the past to ensure its progress and keeping up to date with the latest technological trends
the university has one of the leading research centers, one of which is the: The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing which is a world-leading research centre dedicated to developing innovative technology solutions for advanced materials forming(Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, 2010)
It also has a new nuclear research center for PhD students , and an earthquake studies which are very interesting for the Syrian students .
It can be said that now that the political situation is turning for the better ( Global Arab network, 2010). The market is open, and the University of Sheffield is one of the first Universities that have shown interest in taking extra care of this market.
Not to mention that the university is trying to make its own identity in terms of the modules that it teaches and the research opportunities it provides (Ireton, S. 2010)
The Marketing Mix:
The marketing mix for a service corporation consists of 7 Ps and not just 4 Ps which the other companies use as their marketing mix.
4.1. The product:
Is what the customers in the targeted market are looking for
the University offers higher education for scholarly oriented people, and provides a respectable degree from a highly ranked university that improves work prospects, creating a unique learning experience, with special interest in building research mentality, which is missing in the Syrian students, and has to be developed in order to face the new age variables.
Of course the university offers various undergraduate degrees, but for the Syrian students, it is more common for them to finish their undergraduate degrees in Syria and then travel abroad to acquire higher education (Ireton, S. 2010)
The post graduate taught degrees' tuition fees vary between £12,000-15,000.
And the post graduate research degrees' tuition fees vary between £11,000-30,000 ( University of Sheffield official website, 2010)
Compared to other highly ranked universities, it is not the most expensive, in addition to the relatively cheap living costs in the city of Sheffield.
Place is concerned with all the problems, functions and institutions involved in getting the product or service to the target market.( D.W. Cowell, (1993), pp. 225)
There are only 2 ways that it can reach the targeted market in Syria, via internet and through agents.
The university has only one agent in Syria: Educom international ltd. (University of Sheffield , 2010). Having an agent can be a sort of push promotion.
The other way to address the students in Syria is the website, which the university is trying to improve every day.
Is the direct way in which the organization is attempts to communicate with the various target audience. (Blythe, J. 1998, pp.559)
The university's promotion scheme for Syria is still not complete, for although the number is increasing, it is still small, and is not cost-effective yet. However, the international office is providing ideas constantly to address the market in Syria. ( Ireton, S. 2010)
That is done via many channels:
They are trying to interact with Syrian students, even employ some of them in a try to improve conversion between applications and registration into the conversion between generating interest and application and then registration, meaning that they are trying to generate interest and encourage people to apply then register, rather than just encouraging applicants to register (Ireton, S) which we can say is based on the strong theory of creating interest, desire and then the action (Jones, 1990).
4.4.1. The international students' office:
Contact with prospective students is done in a way that can be considered as direct marketing.
Visiting the country and doing mini fairs and presentations, in order to create interest.
Enquirers follow up: getting in touch regularly with the enquirers, usually done by a Syrian students who can answer their questions in their language, which breaks the language barrier and create a sense of familiarity and friendliness and trust
Helping the enquirers through the application process.
Personal selling: Sending emails and newsletters regularly, which are sometimes personal alongside sending brochures, information packs and the international student guide.
4.4.2. The website:
There's a specific page for each country addressing its particular population. For Syria there's a special page on the university website that has all the information any interested student would need, and it also has profiles for current students and international office ambassador from Syria with contact details (University of Sheffield / Syria page). In further steps, the university intends to translate the university website into Arabic, which can be more appealing (Ireton, S. 2010)
the university is trying to make it search-engine-sensitive so that it can be amongst the first results found when looking for certain words such as : top universities in UK, etcâ€¦â€¦.. (Ireton, S. 2010)
When the agent deals with more than one university, he tends to be biased towards the university that pays the most, and he doesn't have the students' best interest at heart, that's why the university tries not to rely on agents for that purpose (Ireton, S. 2010).
Or as it may be called: sales promotion, the university provides automatic discounts for Syrian students, which is about 10% of the tuition fees for the self-funded students, and is increasable according to merit, for high qualified students.
Education is a very personal service is being provided and the quality of the human providers is a key parameter (Moore, P.G. 1989)
The best people to provide the best education is highly qualified staff i.e. professors, tutors and employees, all which students can find in the University of Sheffield.
Is the place where the service is delivered and the contact between the service provider and customer takes place. In this case the place is the university campus, departments, and research centers, not to mention the students union which is ranked as the best students' union for 2009 and the information commons which is at service 24/7 throughout the year. All of these places are highly equipped with all that a student may ne
Is the process of delivering the service. The university provides an online application form.
It also provides online learning environment that creates a special learning-teaching environment, with the ability to interact with the professor and/or tutor.
Market segmentation, targeting and positioning:
"Segmentation is attempting to isolate the traits that distinguish a certain group of consumers from the overall market" (Boone& Kurtz, 1999, pp.230) this process is based on many factors:
Age: for the Syrian market as mentioned earlier is the post graduate students which are above 23 years old.
Income: upper middle class, upper class (that can afford the study and living costs in the UK) and of course other students from different classes that are sponsored by the government and other funding sources (Ireton, S. 2010).
Psychographic: the people who are familiar with living abroad, leaving the family for higher education.
Getting a degree of higher education from a very respectable university, that will ultimately increase their work perspective.
People are maybe seeking a new experience and the chance to meet new people.
The university uses the concentrated marketing, which is "targeting on market segment with one marketing mix" (Wood, M. B. 2004, pp. 108).
The university pays a lot of attention to the market segment it chooses, because having good students saves the university's reputation and ranking. (Ireton, S. 2010)
"The place that the product occupies in a given market, as perceived by the relevant group of customers; that group is known as the target segment of the market"(Blythe, J.1998, pp.64)
The university is set in a position of high quality education and research. Even though, the tuition fees are relatively low, yet, it does not have to be so low because that will affect the segment that they are targeting.
It is an investment for Syria to send students to the best not the cheapest, it is better for the students and for the country, for education is an national resource, wither if the students go back and teach in Syrian universities and transfer the British ways of education, or even if they work in the gulf countries, in which case they will benefit Syria with the money they make and with building the reputation internationally. (Ireton, S. 2010)
It is, ultimately, a matter of awareness and affordability (Ireton, S. 2010). Once Syrian government realizes that investment, it will send more and more Syrian students to the UK and people will consider it more seriously, regardless of the costs, and the University of Sheffield will be the first destination because it is already building its reputation.