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Sri Lankan universities and marketing orientation

Sep 20, 2011 3:30:23 PM - www.ft.lk

Everybody focuses on globalisation. The ‘Mahinda Chinthana – Vision for the Future’ policy statement envisages making Sri Lanka the regional hub in five sectors: a maritime hub, an aviation hub, a commercial hub, an energy hub and a knowledge hub.

The contribution of universities in this regard is of utmost importance. Now we can witness private universities also coming into picture. Unlike in the past, the national university system should also be market-oriented to attract more customers.
Even though they are State universities, there is a need to focus more on “market orientation”. So it is important to understand the concept of marketing orientation. The market orientation concept has its origins in a management philosophy known as “the marketing concept”. This philosophy has been a cornerstone of the marketing discipline since Drucker (1954,) described marketing as “the whole business seen from the point-of-view of its final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view,” and argued that “[t]here is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer”.
Over the years the marketing concept has served as marketing’s implicit theory of the firm by relating performance differentials between firms to their degree of market orientation (Stoelhorst and Van Raaij, 2004). Narver and Slater (1990) propose that market orientation comprises three behavioural components – customer orientation, competitor orientation and inter-functional coordination and two decision criteria – long-term focus and profitability (see figure 1).
It can be questionable whether the customer orientation can be seen in the national university system. Even though there have been some attempts by national universities on this, compared to private universities this area should be further improved.
There is also an attitude problem since the undergraduate students in the grid (say 20,000 per year) get admission to national universities and find no need to be customer-oriented since education is provided at zero cost.
But this ill feeling should be eliminated from the system. The attitude of “if you come you have to be here. If you go we do not have any problem. It is only a loss to you,” should be addressed. It is all the more important to have a Customer Orientation Awareness Programme (COAP) in State universities. Further, competitor orientation deals with the way you measure the activities of other universities. Therefore it is important to have better, high quality and competitive market oriented programmes.
Currently one can observe many diplomas, post graduate diplomas and master’s programmes being conducted by State and national universities. Therefore the need to track competitor activities is a must. Inter-functional coordination discusses about the concept of marketing orientation by all the sections on the university. It means staff assistants to the vice chancellor to registrar should understand the value of marketing orientation.
Although many think that marketing should be done only by marketing people, if a student comes to get some work done at the finance department, even the clerk (or cashier) should be customer oriented. All the staff members should know about programmes offered by the university, because they are brand ambassadors for each university.
Universities should focus long term if they are really focusing on their future. The vision and mission statements dictate that and they should also be market-oriented. The profitability factor can be considered once it comes to market-driven courses, but here we have to understand the concept of profit with customer satisfaction and social responsibility.
In a free market society, to compete with others, there is a need to understand the concept of marketing orientation. The ultimatum is to provide better service to the students while satisfying them and enhancing the quality and productivity of the nation. This can be considered as one part in annual policy planning of the university system. Otherwise, if this trend continues, there will be a sudden collapse in the national university system.
(The writer is a Chartered Marketer and Consultant, Senior Lecturer in Marketing – Open University of Sri Lanka and a certified trainer for tutors and mentors in online learning. He holds an MBA (Colombo), B. Sc Mkt. (Special) (SJP), MCIM, Dip in MKT (UK), MSLIM, MAAT and Dip in CMA, Chartered Intermediate from ICASL.)

Drucker P.F. (1954) ‘The Practice of Management’
Narver, J.C. & Slater, S.F. (1990), ‘The Effect of a Market Orientation on Business Profitability’ – Journal of Marketing, 54(4), pp. 20-35
Stoelhorst, JW and E. M. van Raaij (2004), ‘On Explaining Performance Differentials: Marketing and the Managerial Theory of the Firm,’ Journal of Business Research, 57