The last two decades have been phenomenal in terms of the emergence of private, new-age institutions across India. A number of schools and universities endowed with modern infrastructure and educational technology, have been founded by corporate houses. Corporate funding has fueled the growth of these institutions and many new projects are likely to come up in the next five to ten years. Not so long ago, there were just a few renowned private schools (known as public schools in India) and even fewer private universities in the country. The scenario today, is very different. I shall try to focus on the existing scenario at the school level.
Most of the prestigious private schools are over a century old and unfortunately, many of these schools have failed to reinvent themselves and are struggling to keep pace with the schools founded in recent times. The schools founded in the 19th and early part of the 20th century pride themselves on their heritage and the achievements of their alumni. A certain class of the Indian society has always believed in the model of education being imparted by these elite schools and have remained their loyal clients. The very term ‘client’ is quite strange when it comes to education but the corporatisation of modern education has converted schools into 25 business houses and the parents are being viewed as ‘clients’ and the children as ‘consumers’. Yes, education is getting transformed into a ‘commodity’ from a ‘service’ with great rapidity.
The advent of new schools has sparked off a huge competition amongst them and the older schools too have been affected by this sudden competition as they no longer find themselves in the comfort-zone they were used to. Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to fill up their seats both qualitatively and quantitatively. Unfortunately, many good schools do not have a Pan-Indian client-base any longer and they are depending on the local clients. Hence, there is a need for the new schools to brand and position themselves well in the market to attract the right kind of clients. Similarly, the older schools have to redouble their efforts in rebranding themselves as modern schools.
Visibility is the most important aspect of marketing and the schools must come up with ways to make themselves visible to the clients. The traditional word of mouth publicity is no longer effective because the parents today weigh several options before deciding on a school for their children. A lot of research goes into selecting the right school and the ones which are more visible are the ones considered first. The parents today, take many aspects into consideration and look at a number of schools and examine their suitability and at the end of the process, an informed decision is made.
It is almost mandatory for schools to have a dynamic website with SEO capabilities to enhance the visibility of the school. From my personal experience, I can mention that 80 to 90% of the prospective parents visit the website of the schools they are interested in and hence it is important for all schools to invest in a good and userfriendly website to attract the clients. Being the Dean of Admissions and Marketing at my school, parents ask me a wide range of questions before deciding to register their children for admission. Infrastructure, Pedagogy, Co-curricular Education, Sports Coaching, Medicare, coaching for competitive examinations, CareerCounselling, Life-skills Counselling, Outdoor Education, Teacher-Taught ratio, Pastoral Care, Fee-structure and quality of Faculty are among the common topics parents are interested in and some of them even show interest in the demographic structure of the staff and students. It is important for your website to have the required information, presented in a concise and effective manner. Having a virtual reality campus tour embedded to the website is an added advantage and many schools have already done so. Many schools have provided a much needed Parental Dashboard on their websites which is an excellent way of communicating with the parent community. WhatsApp groups and bulk SMS systems are equally important and effective.
This is the era of digital marketing and all schools must make use of this cost-effective and powerful tool to reach out to their clients. Facebook and Instagram are excellent platforms to highlight the achievements of the school and its alumni. These technologies make you reach the masses with ease. Subscribing to online admission portals and school search portals is another way of making the school visible. The presence of these online tools in the market is a piece of powerful evidence that schools need to market themselves to stay ahead of the competition. A number of agencies organize School Fairs across the nation and beyond which provide the schools with a good platform to set up their stalls and interact with prospective parents and also an opportunity to showcase your school in those areas where you do not have a client base. Having a virtual reality campus tour embedded to the website is an added advantage and many schools have already done so.
The key aspect here is to understand that the education sector in India is as competitive as any other sector and it is only going to get tougher for the schools to admit the required number of students each year unless they start to market themselves and make themselves visible to the clients. A separate budget needs to be allocated for marketing and the schools must experiment with various ways of marketing in order to identify the right tools. As long as there is competition, marketing is a necessity. After all, if you don’t tell, you won’t sell.
Tushar Bharadwaj is Dean of Activities, Marketing and Admissions and a member of the Senior Management Team at The Assam Valley School, besides being a Formula-1 enthusiast and a passionate quizmaster.
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