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Prof Maurits Van Rooijen, CEO and Rector, LSBF

Marketing at LSBF is much more central to the operation. We are truly global and we don’t view agents in the margin. We also have a different approach to students – counselling them rather than just trying to sell them something...
November 16 2012
5 Min Read

The London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) is one of the fastest growing providers in international higher education. We spoke to Professor Maurits Van Rooijen, the new Rector and CEO, about the organisation’s plans for global expansion.

The PIE: Before working at LSBF, you had prestigious roles at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam and University of Westminster among others. Did this involve international work?

MVR: Yes. When I moved to the University of Westminster in 1993 it was an unknown university – an old institution with a new name. My first position there was director of international education, then over the years I became effectively member of the executive.

I was responsible for the transformation of the university from a very much local, undergraduate focused institution to a very international university with a very high number of international students with a big provision of postgraduate education and of course with a campus in Central Asia. We were very successful with this, so much so that it got the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the export category twice, in 2000 and 2005, which is quite a unique achievement.

The PIE: This is your first move into the private sector. What drew you to LSBF?

MVR: First of all, I was attracted to it because it operates at a global level – and when you look at my background you will see that I’m one of the first generation to understand and be involved in internationalisation of higher education. And higher education these days is more and more becoming global. And what I like about this firm is that it thinks global, it acts global.

“I’m one of the first generation to understand and be involved in internationalisation of higher education”

The other thing that appealed to me is its innovation. Innovation is almost what drives LSBF and that is so refreshing when you come from the more traditional universities where it’s harder to focus on innovation.

The PIE: Can you give me an example of innovation at LSBF?

MVR: An example, and something else that drew me to the role, is there is a very big online provision. I think what’s happening in this field in higher education is just as important as what was happening in the book printing press in the 16th century, which of course had a major impact on how we teach. It revolutionised things, and I think we are in the middle of that now. An institution like LSBF probably understands it better than many other institutions.

The PIE: What’s your mission in leading LSBF over the coming years?

MVR: Obviously this is a very fast organisation. It expands very quickly and there is a major eagerness to try out new things, to be innovative, so as a rector I need to drive that – and  maybe give it a bit more direction at times. What I want is to make sure that we really do become a truly global organisation and that we operate all over the world. We already do now, in London, Toronto, Singapore and several other places, as well as online, but we need to expand that further and expand in the provision of portfolio.

The PIE: And how about in terms of enrolments?

MVR: We want to see growth continue. This is an amazing operation, which in ten years has grown from just four students to 38,000 which is mind blowingly impressive, and that’s only for starters. We will continue growing at the same kind of speed.

“In ten years LSBF has grown from just four students to 38,000 which is mind blowingly impressive”

The PIE: What do you think is the secret of LSBF’s success?

MVR: I think it’s about thinking from the student point of view. Rather than saying, “This is our course, this is what we feel you should know, are you good enough for my course,” we view it much more from the student’s perspective: we need to know where we should place that student, on what kind of course, what will be a convenient place or places for them to study, what will be most relevant to their careers. It’s not just about looking at the market demand.

The PIE: How about marketing? LSBF gives a lot of resource to this. [More>>]

MVR: Rather than saying, “This is our portfolio, now we are going to try to find students,” marketing at LSBF is much more central to the operation. We are truly global, with around 30 offices across the world and a really strong network of agents. And we don’t view agents in the margin, but as an essential part of our operation. We also have a different approach in listening to students – counselling them rather than just trying to sell them something.

The PIE: How do you get their feedback?

MVR: A lot of it is direct contact. We have a team of around two hundred tasked with listening to and advising students, and what they hear they also feedback to the wider organisation.

The PIE: What do you think public sector universities could learn from LSBF’s approach?

MVR: I’m not sure it’s about learning, because that suggests that we compete, when actually we are working in partnerships with the public sector, with universities such as UCLAN, Bradford University, the Grenoble Business School and a range of others. In fact we are offering them capacities which they might not easily achieve, because of the investment required or the market risks. So we sit down with them and ask them what they want to achieve globally and online, so we can see how best to help them.

“We don’t view agents in the margin, but as an essential part of our operation”

The PIE: Can you give an example?

MVR: They may have for instance an ambition to go online, but are they going to invest £10-£15 million building the platform and surrounding operations? We have done that already and we can achieve economies of scale for them. And in terms of marketing: we all know how much we should invest to be effective globally, but the question it is whether it’s not smarter to spread that risk. For example, an institution thinking of starting an operation in Singapore could use our facilities. We also have the market intelligence.

The PIE: Do you think your focus will remain on business education?

MVR: At the moment the focus is very much on the provision of business and finance – for example through our  ACCA Programmes – but we are broadening it. One of the more recent examples is our College for Contemporary Arts, which is now moving into areas like fashion. So even though the core remains business and finance, we are going a little bit beyond it.

We also have a language school in London which we want to expand to other locations, so this is a major growth area. We already offer some pathways, and if we feel it is in the interest of students to provide more then we will.

The PIE: What about financial growth? Where does the company see itself going.

MVR: We grow every year by about 15-20% and enjoy the turnover of a medium size university. But if we can manage to keep the growth levels this will definitely be a major success story in the higher education sector.

“If we can keep the growth levels this will definitely be a major success story”

The PIE: Which are your top student markets going forward?

MVR: When it comes to recruitment we aim to keep things widespread, not just focus on the traditional markets like China. There are more than 150 nationalities here thanks to our offices and agent network. The aim is to be global not cost effective which leads you to focus on fewer markets, makes you vulnerable financially, and impairs diversity in the classroom.

The PIE: How about operationally?

MVR: We have some very advanced discussions about new operations outside the UK. We are definitely looking at the Americas and Asia, and of course in Europe itself, so those are the three big geographic areas. Unfortunately I can’t say more at this point!

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