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    With the prospect of dwindling state funds, the leaders of Oxford and Cambridge face a question that many people living beneath this city’s dreaming spires may consider beneath their dignity: How do you market an 800-year-old university? American universities have whole departments devoted to fund-raising and marketing, but these have remained foreign to schools here. Both Oxford and Cambridge, however, have new fund-raising efforts under way. “Fund-raising is a topic we have to approach very carefully because it is not ingrained in the culture of these universities like it is in the United States,” said Frances Cairncross, rector of Exeter College in Oxford. “There is a shift taking place, but it will take time.” Oxford has hired a fund-raiser from a North American university who will start work in October, and later this year the University of Cambridge will hold a public kickoff of its largest capital campaign ever, pegged to its 800th anniversary in 2009.

    For all their prestige and fame, cashing in on their brand names will take more than a simple campaign, according to John Birnsteel, a director of the London consulting firm Enterprise IG. “While they are both among the most prestigious educational establishments in the world, their amateur communications efforts give totally mixed messages to alumni,” said Mr. Birnsteel, a graduate of Queen’s College, Cambridge. “As it stands, I can never understand who is asking for money or for what.” To eliminate confusion, both universities should establish a “master brand,” Mr. Birnsteel said. “The key brand weakness is that there is very little identifying the universities as a single entity,” he said. “Sports unite universities in the US, but the only events that unite Oxford and Cambridge as a whole are a rugby game and a rowing race.”

    The result, Mr. Birnsteel says, is that he receives requests for money from his college, the university and from individual faculties. “There is no streamlined message or economy of scale in this setup. Strong brands stand out from the clutter, but this does the opposite.” Officials from both universities agree that fund-raising efforts must somehow overcome the decentralized manner in which the universities have always been run. Individual colleges – where students spend much of their time, and to which they hold strong allegiances — seem to compete in fund-raising against the university itself.

    The university raises money for services, like the faculty of English or the department of Chemistry. “Alumni confusion about whether to give to their college or the university is something we are actively addressing now,” said Aniela Shuckburgh, fund-raising campaign manager of the University of Cambridge. “Our message is that giving to your college or the university as a whole is great, and both count towards our capital campaign.” “The university is working closely with the colleges to simplify our message,” Ms. Shuckburgh said. “This is unprecedented, and we hope it will bring unprecedented results.”

    Traditionally, colleges will raise money for buildings, scholarships and perhaps the restoration of a chapel, and the university will raise money for such things as a new law department building, a new chair of chemistry and scholarships. “Now we have narrowed it all down to four objectives,” Ms. Shuckburgh said. “We want money for investing in students, investing in staff, investing in discovering creativity and investing in our great collections.” Over at Oxford, fund-raising has also become a higher priority. Formerly undertaken by the director of development, who answered to the college registrar, fund-raising has been raised to the level of a pro vice chancellor answering directly to the university’s top executive, the vice chancellor.

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    1. Approaching Fund-raising
    2. Marketing Oxford
    3. Marketing an 800 year old university
    4. Emulating American Universities
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