Puritan cold spots

As my weekend walking down the length of the country approached the Edge Hill battleground, I did a little light research on the English Civil War. This included reading The World Turned Upside Down by Christopher Hill, where I found an intriguing mention of plans for an expansion of higher education: ‘During the Revolution a new university was started in Durham, and others were proposed for London, York, Bristol, Exeter, Norwich, Manchester, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Cornwall, Wales, the Isle of Man…’

This brought to mind the consideration being given by DiUS to setting up new ‘higher education centres’, ‘to bring the benefits of local higher education provision to bear across the country’, in so-called ‘cold spots‘. Most to the places on the Puritan list are well universitied up already, but there are a few exceptions. The list of modern cold spots includes Shropshire, suggesting that the University mooted by the Puritans is still needed.

Edge Hill has around 500 students on programmes taught in Shrewsbury, so perhaps we are belatedly realising the Puritan vision – like some New Model Army of HE…

Apparently it was also proposed that ‘Undergraduates should work their way through the university, earning their living in some useful calling part of the day or every other day’ (p300, referring to Several Sermons and Discourses by Wiliam Dell). This bit at least has come true, in that most students do paid work while studying. Hopefully this practice achieves Dell’s objectives, that ‘Youth be delivered from that Ease and Idleness, which fills the hearts of University-Students with many Corruptions, and noisome Lusts, whilst they fill their Heads only with empty Knowledge and foolish Notions’ (p646).

Customise your chest

A lot is written about the way online/social media enable people to create identities for themselves. However some of the oldest, most analog and physical media also offer possibilities for individuals to tailor the ways they present themselves to the world.

Promotional clothing such as t-shirts and hoodies is an example. Digital printing and embroidering techniques mean personalised kit is easy to come by. One effect of this is to make apparently official gear, eg with university logos, accessible to anyone who wants it, and therefore effectively outside the control of the logo police. (In other words don’t complain to me – they could have come from anywhere!)

Customised clothes have become the norm, eg gear with crests and logos on the chest, and things like teams, dorm names, and nicknames on the back. At Edge Hill there is a fashion for adding a name directly underneath an embroidered logo. This area was planned to be where, say, a Faculty or campus would be mentioned – for instance I have one with ‘Corporate Marketing’ embroidered beneath the logo. So far, so corporate. However I’ve seen all kinds of things: ‘Foxy Chick‘ has a certain postfeminist panache, but wasn’t what we had in mind when we wrote the visual identity handbook…

Hockey Slags’ – as a team name proudly emblazoned on the back of some hoodies – seems to be of a different order. ‘Cool – it reclaims an offensive term and thereby robs it of its power!’ cries my inner media boffin, enthused by the layers of irony. Nevertheless I doubt that Miss Hale (the first Principal, whose stern picture adorns Sages Restaurant) would have approved. Maybe I shouldn’t either.

Black Sun Rising

Glancing at the webcam this morning, I saw what appeared to be a black sun rising over the Business School building (home of Criminology, Law and Management programmes.) Or perhaps a black hole has formed, somewhere over Aughton.

We have been briefed to expect a challenging year, but being sucked acrooss the event horizon into singularity would in my view be a bit much.

Fortunately the black dot is an optical illusion and cosmic catastrophe did not occur today, at least not yet. The Business School remains intact and looks very splendid:

More pics here.

Seven Deadly New Year’s Resolutions

I have always been a fan of the Seven Deadly Sins, ever since I stayed up to watch the original Bedazzled movie, back when Christmas telly was good. So I thought it would good to devise marketing-related New Year’s Resolutions, based on the handy readymade structure of the ‘capital vices’. The idea isn’t to commit all the sins (in some spectacular orgy of Sadean libertinage); rather, it’s to figure out how to avoid them, and stay on the narrow way of goodness combined with the shining path of marketing success 😉

So what have we got to contend with? Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride comprise the traditional menu, with corresponding virtues: chastity, temperance etc. So let’s sort ’em out.

Lust
Tricky one this – what kind of marketing lust might we fall prey to? Dante defined it as ‘excessive love of others’ so let’s avoid promiscuously courting random people – and instead try and fill our databases, Facebook friend lists etc with genuine potential customers, with whom we can have meaningful relationships.

Gluttony
doesn’t just refer to food, though personally I do intent to follow Thomas Aquinas’ example and avoid eating ‘too much’, ‘too daintily’ or conversely ‘wildly’. Gluttony is also about waste – so our diligent value-for-money procurement, environmentally-friendly production methods and highly-targeted (or non-lustful) marketing will put us on the right side of this one.

Greed

is slightly different – a sin of excess involving the accumulation of wealth. Isn’t this what marketing people are interested in? Maybe, though in the public sector we aren’t creating profits for shareholders. We do intend to raise £1.3m in philanthropic income over the next three years. That will of course be charity – the virtue corresponding to the vice of greed – so we’ll definitely be on the side of the angels.

Sloth
can’t be good, and I’ll be fitting in some regular blood-pumping, endorphin-liberating, cholestertol-lowering exercise by walking around the campus, into town and maybe even through the woods, inspired by the Urban Walks scheme. Within the department, as well as maintaining a white-hot rate of busy-ness, we’ll be going above and beyond by working on an exciting action research project, of which more in a later post.

Wrath
can be manifested as impatience, and in a sense we’re paid to be impatient as we’re all trying to improve things; to move with speed from where we are now to where we want to be. However the Devil’s in the detail, and we need to get things right as well as forging ahead. So I’m resolving to avoid overhastiness…

Envy
played by Barry Humphries in the 1967 version of Bedazzled, is another kind of insatiable desire, wanting what others have. ‘Envious marketing’ could manifest itself as lookalike advertising, trying to resemble another institution or organisation. I’d like us to carry on being distinctive and ploughing our own furough.

Finally Pride – a difficult one as we’re often beating ourselves up for being too shy and retiring as an institution. And, yes, I’d like us to win more awards and recognition. Perhaps marketing departments are a kind of professional boasters, absorbing hubris like a medieval Sin Eater? I don’t think this is the case – as any marketing claims we make have to be based on substance. So another resolution is to focus on credibility and keep it real…

Leadership in Development Management – Day 0

I’ve been fortunate enough to obtain a scholarship for a place on the Leadership in Development Management programme run by CASE. The programme is for people involved in fundraising and related activities, particularly those new to their roles. 20 of these folks have converged on Sarasota in Florida where we will participate in a 2-day conference with US colleagues and have a study tour of institutions of various kinds. The programme has been well planned so that we don’t only visit high fliers with billion-dollar campaigns – we will also meet people from more modest institutions who have had an uphill struggle setting up their development operations.

The context for the programme is the opportunities created by the Government’s £200m matched funding scheme, which for the next three years will provide additional funds matching philanthropic giving to HE from organisations and individuals, in our case adding 50p to every pound raised, up to £1.3m. That’s ten bob in the old money added on to every pound we raise, and well worth having. With that in mind, my question for the week is what kind of fundraising programme would work at EHU? What is the best model for us, specifically, with our distinctive mission, subject mix, and body of alumni?

Did I mention that it’s in Florida? The venue makes a nice change from a wet and prematurely wintry UK – although we’ll be working hard in a programme which, frankly, looks pretty challenging, feeling some sun though the window will be great and occasionally glimpsing some blue sky will be pleasant.

We arrived late on Saturday night and had some free time on Sunday morning, blogged about elsewhere. The afternoon was taken up with an orientation session where the differences between our 20 institutions, and the common themes we share, became apparent.

Physically I’m still on UK time so early nights and mornings are the order of the day – in my case seeking out the earliest possible coffee availability.

Hope to blog more as the opportunity arises.

‘and you have to have a fly’s eye to see it…’

The expanding range of student blogs is giving the world a multifaceted and sometimes surprising view of Edge Hill University. It is particularly interesting to get a sense of what arriving at Edge Hill feels like. Some of the bloggers on the Hi applicant website are describing their experiences of returning to the University and passing on their wisdom to the freshers. Subjects like houses, housemates, summer jobs, making the most of Freshers’ Week and dressing up in silly costumes (before Freshers’ Week has even started?) are explored along with insights into nearby places, sport, arts and culture.

Another blog I’ve been enjoying is The Adventures of Abby and Catie: Two Friends, One Year Abroad, One Adventure of A Lifetime, which has so far described the planning, anticipation, journey to and arrival at the start of a year at Edge Hill for two US students. It’s really interesting to get a sense of what the University and its surroundings feel like to people for whom England itself is a ‘novelty’ – the sense of estrangement caused by all the minor differences (‘from the brands and foods sold in the stores, to the WAY things are sold (meat at a real, live butcher’s shop to eggs not being refridgerated) is just…fascinating. Even the keyboards are set up slightly differently…’) within the broad US/UK similarities. Things we all get used to and which don’t seem special can take on an allure when seen by fresh eyes:

Ormskirk is amazing. We arrived on a market day, so the entire town, it seemed, was out to greet us. There are stalls with everything you could possibly imagine, from fruit to dog beds.

(‘From fruit to dogbeds’ will now become the official term for ‘a surprisingly large range of disparate objects’ in our household, replacing ‘suits of armour and wool’.)

I suppose markets should be exciting*. Any crossroads with a few stalls selling things is a node in a vast network of interactions, a sort of provisional axis mundi for those who are there. What could be more exciting than that? The marketing metaphor applied to HE hypothesises universities as places that meet needs (like markets, but not by any means only markets) but this meeting-of-needs can’t just be a mechanical transaction. The process needs to include excitement and emotion, at least at certain points. Some of these just happen, and some need managing. (For instance, I’m writing this on ‘Welcome Sunday’, looking out of my office window at students arriving with parents – there is a palpable excitement in the air, like a nervous carnival, coming-of-age with lots of queuing – and a mass of processes and meticulous planning behind it all.)

Anyway. The point I set out to make is that those of us who work in HE marketing can learn a lot from the the rich and diverse range of viewpoints out there in the blogosphere. Alongside the statistics and focus-group results, blogs give us access to real-life viewpoints that deserve attention. But one needs a way to give that attention to a profusion of blogs happening simultaneously (hence the Captain Beefheart quote that titles this post) – if a fly’s eye proves impractical, a direct-to-cortex RSS feed would be handy…

*Coincidentally, when I finish this I’m heading off to Liverpool for the annual Hope Street Market, which this year includes a ‘Market of Optimism‘ – that could be a nice metaphor to live in for a while.

Under a glamour

Graduates shun teaching as it doesn’t offer enough ‘glamour’, according to a new study, reported in the press today.

But is glamour a good thing? A dictionary defines it as ‘Magic, enchantment; delusive or alluring beauty or charm’ (Concise Oxford). A glamour (as a noun) is a kind of spell, usually bringing dire consequences: a type of bewitchment whereby the victim becomes enamoured of an object of desire to the exclusion of all else, wasting away as they ignore the real world… By these standards, a profession that ‘lacks glamour’ could be a good thing.

A certain amount of delusion is part of the human condition, but however alluring delusion might be, reality is surely better. After all, being under a glamour (or geas or other cantrip) is being under someone else’s control…

I accept that neither the survey authors or respondents were thinking of glamour as it may be deployed by denizens of faerie in the Dark Ages, in the pages of the Morte D’Arthur or even in a Harry Potter book. Presumably they mean glamour as in fame, celebrity, glitz – the type of thing a 13-year-old in the grip of a sugar-rush might be impressed by. Accepting (reluctantly) a modern meaning of glamour as ‘appeal’, one consider other aspects of the appeal of teaching. In a survey of teachers’ status earlier this year it was “rated second – beating city-based jobs such as law and accountancy – in a poll of what was considered the ‘most talented profession'” (TDA).

Congregation liturgy

You go to a special place at a special time.
Organ music is playing.
Family members sit in rows, dressed smartly.
People in robes process in.
There is standing up and sitting down.
Symbolic objects and costumes are in evidence.
Special words are spoken, which change the identity of the participants for all time (as long as they and others believe in what is said.)
The event comes to an end, and everyone spills out into the sunlight, blinking and reaching for cameras.

This could describe a wedding, a baptism, or a graduation ceremony. Sitting in the audience of the Edge Hill ceremony (a splendid event) yesterday I mused on whether this ritual is as secular as it seems. Obviously it isn’t attached to a particular religion (though the graduation events of some institutions are, to a greater or lesser extent). Nevertheless, an observer might see some structural similarities between the use of space, time, ritual and speech-acts in degree ceremonies and sacred or spiritual events. There was no mention of God but plenty of appeals to, and invocations of, large, transpersonal, intangible concepts – the future, achievement, success, society, development.

Perhaps these events are a kind of secular spirituality?

no object

Professor Tomasz Pobog-Malinowski promised, and delivered, ‘a rollercoaster ride through photographs depicting our civilisation’s obsession with objects, with images of objects and with our search for “objectivity”’ in his inaugural lecture last night. His 85 slides took us through ‘Objects of desire, objects of love, of hate, of consumption, of fetish, of virtu, of exercise, of political aim … ‘, a vast range encompassing a giant Swiss Army knife with (coincidentally) 85 blades, artworks by Peter Greenaway, Man Ray, Holbein and others, God and (courtesy of Blackwells) the Mother of God as inscribed on toast.

An object
An object.

In a presentation that was by turns beautiful, alarming, and dryly witty, Prof Malinowski provoked us into thinking about ‘What is real, what is fake, what is virtual?’ in a world of ‘manufactured objectivity’.