But there is often a correlation made between sustainability and increased costs, holding back the process and I just don’t see this in our sector – quite the reverse, in fact.
Rapid reaction to embrace new digital strategies
There is a new imperative as Covid-19 is demanding immediate responses – businesses have to respond expeditiously to this pandemic. Can this be done? Unequivocally, YES. With the right platform, it is possible to create highly focused digital literature that can be constantly adapted and updated to stay relevant to your target demographic.
“HE institutions will have to react quickly and permanently into new digital strategies“
There is particular pressure in education because of heightened awareness of these issues in the student community – evidenced by the emphasis on this area in businesses that graduates go on to run. This all makes the vast printing and freighting exercise conducted by HE institutions to get their prospectuses out increasingly anachronistic.
However, a gradual shift in culture away from hard-copy – informed by committee meetings and long-term research, tinkering around the edges of policy as a prelude before eventually moving into the centre – will not serve. HE institutions will have to react quickly and permanently into new digital strategies. Once they have done so, I know they will never look back. Although sudden transformation can seem daunting, the result will be worth it.
Are you being read?
At the heart of most HE marketing lies the prospectus. The average prospectus costs an average of £3.20 to bring to publication and £4.40 to distribute (including freight, import etc). They are still printed out in their millions and sent to every corner of the globe. Up to 28% of these are discarded without being read.
Judgements have to be made about how many to produce – underestimates lead to re-runs and the reverse creates expensive waste.
While hard copy may never be completely eliminated, there is a powerful argument for replacing much of it with electronic formats. Failure to click and read is regrettable but, environmentally, almost cost-free. Compare that with a glossy brochure tossed unread into the bin.
In fact, that click and read is precisely the most natural and favoured method of access of our target demographic; cool backpacks aren’t designed to be filled with heavy literature!
Cutting costs by being environmentally friendly
Just as unread literature combines environmental and financial costs, ramping up the transition from hard to electronic copy reveals a similar partnership of environmental and budgetary savings. Freighting, especially by air, is notoriously costly in both, and port to port delivery then requires local distribution, with the same double issue.
The same double bind applies to the printing industry – industrial pollution and high water and energy use are unavoidable realities here. Ditto the production and use of paper.
Free up your most valuable assets – your staff
At a departmental level, using a system like theRACK enables a centralisation of resources while retaining the ability to make adjustments that easily allows for an adaptation of those resources for specific purposes at relatively low cost and at great speed. The avoidance of duplication and the enhancement of consistent branding are obvious benefits, but so is the freeing up of staff for other purposes.
The same applies to staff involved in the production of publicity and information material – diverting some of this staff time to other areas of international recruitment could be of huge benefit. The HE sector is well-placed to deal with sudden change – staff are high-skilled and adaptable – and Covid-19 is a catalyst for change which was coming anyway.
A great opportunity
We all have a desire to reduce environmentally unfriendly practices, but students are in the vanguard of change – the issue permeates much of their study and the moral/philosophical arguments are put more forcefully by them than anyone else. The emergence of role-models like Greta Thunberg and youth representation in last year’s Global Climate Strike can’t be ignored by universities hoping to attract that very demographic.
There is often a risk that customers will struggle to adapt to sudden change, prompting a tendency towards gradualism to smooth out that natural inertia. But with international students as customers, that risk is virtually invisible; students are already equipped and prepared to embrace the change – indeed, they are probably frustrated that it hasn’t already arrived.
The good news is that this presents us in the HE sector with an opportunity – we can cut costs and contribute to environmental improvement while joining forces with the very demographic that we depend on. But we need to do it now, with confidence and without prevarication. What are we waiting for?
Paul Loftus is the founder and CEO of eduKUDU, as well as a founding member of CANIE the Climate Action Network for International Education.
In his 25th year in Int Ed his focus is on sustainability, budget streamlining and delivery of tailored content to future international students, as the industry moves the colossal print element into the 21st century.