Marketing Education should be a Passion not a Vocation

Many years ago I was asked to give some courses at our local university. Although I was a seasoned professional in marketing and had given numerous marketing presentations, including some guest lectures at universities across Canada and USA, I had not formally taught a university course. So I agreed to teach some marketing courses at the business schools in my community first at the University of Ottawa (B Comm and MBA) and later at Sprott School of Business at Carleton University (B Comm). I also had the opportunity to teach a seminar program in the USA at the University Of South Florida College Of Public Health. After close to 25 years I finally gave up my post as lecturer but still run a program at the Professional Programs at Sprott i.e.  Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing.

I also continue to give seminars and workshops at Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) which is devoted to the advancement of strategic marketing in governments, non-profits and associations and are very involved with training and consulting.



I thoroughly enjoy teaching and training. Although I would never want to be a full time academic as I truly believe that in the field of business those who teach business, particularly marketing should be practitioners who work in the world of business every day otherwise the only experience they can draw from is academic readings and research etc.  That may make sense in the social sciences but not in business schools. However, needless to say the vast majority of tenured full time professors in business schools come from the world of academia and many have never worked in business.

Now you would think that these tenured professors who are paid to mainly teach (or you would think so) would actually be teaching and lecturing students who will be our future business leaders of tomorrow. Well, new research from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, a provincial government agency, finds that the typical teaching load of a university professor has dwindled to less than three courses a year – 2.8, to be exact, just 1.4 courses per semester. A quarter of a century ago, a teaching load of five courses a year (three one semester, two the next) was common.

“There is too much of a flight from teaching and other student-oriented activities,” says Ken Coates, a public-policy professor at the University of Saskatchewan and co-author of the new book What to Consider If You’re Considering University.

So how are the professors spending their time? Research. The system is skewed toward research, because research is rewarded by government grants, promotions and prestige. Clearly, this makes more sense for some disciplines like nanotechnology. But these days, everyone is supposed to be a teacher-scholar, even though there is little evidence that research improves teaching, or that this entire scholarly endeavour is worthwhile. Much of it languishes in obscure, unread journals, doomed to be uncited for all time.

“Publish or Perish” is often heard in the halls of academia. Deans want to know your publishing records although in recent years student evaluations of professors are being used to evaluate professors. But as one professor mentioned to me the professors who might have poor evaluations may be the best teachers as they may be tougher on the students and don’t hand out A’s and are very demanding (a recipe for poor student evaluations)

Universities are unaccountable for results, if, by results, we mean successfully educating students. In the reward system of universities, its research, not teaching, that matters. Professors are rewarded not for turning out high-quality graduates, but for turning out books and papers – even if they are unread. This perverse system stubbornly persists; despite the fact that everyone knows it’s absurd. Some research, especially in the sciences and medicine, matters a great deal to the advancement of society. But a vast amount of it does not.

According to Wharton professors David J. Reibstein, George Day, & Jerry Wind in their Guest Editorial: Is Marketing Academia Losing Its Way? (Journal of Marketing (01-JUL-09) “There is an alarming and growing gap between the interests, standards, and priorities of academic marketers and the needs of marketing executives operating in an ambiguous, uncertain, fast-changing, and complex market-space.

The authors “contend that the gulf between marketing academics and senior marketing and corporate officers has widened. Academics are not listening to marketers’ needs and the issues they confront. The number of academics attending chief marketing officer and other chief-executive officer forums or paying attention to the output is negligible.” (Kind of ironic that marketing academics are out of touch with the potential clients for their information)

In an article Marketing education doesn’t have to be this bad by David Finch, John Nadeau, Norm O’Reilly , the authors state: Unless there are fundamental changes in how undergrads are taught, tomorrow’s talent will enter the workforce disillusioned, ill-prepared and saddled with student debt for years.

So where does this leave us in the world of business especially marketing. If you are a practitioner who works in marketing or communications and want to learn marketing forget about going back to a university to take undergrad or MBA marketing courses. You are much better off taking training programs from seasoned professionals who love teaching and live in the real world where they practice and work in marketing and business every day. I know this sounds like a plug for what we do at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) and of course our professional programs  like the Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing.  But clearly professors who work in universities (with some exceptions of course) are not focused and passionate about educating students .




Are Online Universities the Wave of the Future?

“Do you realize that the cost of higher education has risen as fast as the cost of healthcare? Such totally uncontrollable expenditures…mean that the system is rapidly becoming untenable. Higher education is in deep crisis.”

Peter F. Drucker, as quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education


In a recent column in the Globe Margaret Wente asks how would you like to take the best courses from the best professors at the best universities in the world – basically for free? How would you like to interact online with fellow students, have your online questions answered within minutes and take quizzes for real marks?

Is there a revolution in Universities in Canada and elsewhere?  University of Toronto joined Stanford, Princeton, Michigan and a dozen other major universities offering free online courses to anyone anywhere in the world with a computer. They are partners in Coursera an online venture launched a year ago by two Stanford University computer scientists.  No entrance exams or prerequisites required. No $40,000 tuition, either. Harvard and MIT are pouring millions into edX, a joint venture that will offer their own online courses.  Online education has been around in various forms for a while, but the response to these courses has been massive.

Thirty percent of American college students are now taking at least one class entirely online, according to Marketdata Enterprises Inc., a market research and consulting firm located in Tampa, Fla. The Marketdata study predicts the online trend is going to continue and projects that by 2015 the amount of college students taking online courses will jump to 37 percent. In 2010, over 6.2 million students were enrolled in online courses, according to a Sloan Consortium study, and this is an 11 percent increase from 2009. Just in the last eight years, online enrollment has increased a whopping 385 percent and this trend shows no signs of stopping. Source

“Essentially, this is the Internet happening to education,” says George Siemens, a Canadian researcher at Athabasca University who helped create the very first mass-education online course in 2008. And it’s happening as a generation of students has grown up online. Mr. Siemens thinks the biggest initial impact will be on students in China, India and other parts of the world with limited access to good-quality higher education. Mass online courses could bring higher education to hundreds of millions of people. There will also be plenty of appeal for older learners, curious retirees and people who don’t need or want the kind of immersive university experience that’s so important when you’re 20.

The new wave of innovation is being driven by the soaring cost of higher education in the United States, where tuition fees are five to 10 times higher than in Canada. A key advantage for on-line universities is their classes never close, there is always a space and they can be taken anywhere at virtually any time. They are highly adaptable. Their non-tenured instructors are less prone as to advance a social justice agenda and actually teach the course they were hired to teach…maybe even actually helping students find a real job. ( Also the focus is on teaching and not spending the majority of their time doing research)

For the bricks-and-mortar presidents, administrators and department deans they should be afraid, very afraid of the digital future. Having said that, they have some time…but not unlimited time to devise a strategy to fight back. One important weapon in their arsenal is their well-established brand degree carries great weight. The same is true for other major universities.

But even in Canada, public universities are being brutally squeezed. Mass online courses – especially for standard introductory material – could offer big efficiencies and who knows bring down the cost of running a university. Also tuition fees keep rising and when do students say enough is enough as we have seen in Quebec which has the lowest tuition fees in Canada.

Mass online education faces plenty of hurdles. Among the biggest is the value of these courses in the marketplace. But online entrepreneurs will eventually figure it out. They’re already figuring out ways to connect students with job opportunities as well as figuring out how to monitor and administer real exams.

Lots of people, especially in the education establishment, argue that there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction and collaboration. But in the world of online communities and the upcoming generation i.e. the Millenials who seem to be doing everything online, will have an expectation that they should be able to take courses online, 24-7 at their convenience and not the university.

There is no question, in the next 20 years, new technologies won’t simply deliver old material electronically but will transform the educational system as we know it. For professors and school administrations in denial, they may want to talk to people in the publishing business and many other industries taken over by online communications.

We’re in the very early days of a vast experiment. No one knows how all of this will play out. But universities and colleges are going to see substantial changes in the next few decades. The smart ones will see the opportunities and become early adopters in online teaching and those who are smug and think it won`t happen, will be left behind wondering what happened.

Any thought on this? Let me know what you think.



Are our Universities Broken?

A controversial article in the Globe and Mail on Universities  provides some perspective and insights on some of the challenges at academic institutions, particularly undergraduate programs. Most students take courses from “itinerant graduate students”, large classes especially in first and second years are not supportive of learning, and use of multiple-choice tests instead of essay questions is the trend in universities.

The dropout rate at universities in Canada is at an all-time high (56 per cent finish their degrees within six years)”. Universities are rewarded for getting bums in seats, not for educating and graduating them. Educating undergraduates is just about the last thing most professors want to do. They’d rather not have the students around, because they’d rather do research.

The author also points out that universities are unaccountable for results, if, by results, we mean successfully educating students. In the reward system of universities, its research, not teaching, that matters. Professors are rewarded not for turning out high-quality graduates, but for turning out books and papers – even if they are unread. This perverse system stubbornly persists; despite the fact that everyone knows it’s absurd. Some research, especially in the sciences and medicine, matters a great deal to the advancement of society. But a vast amount of it does not.”

Richard Vedder, a leading U.S. critic, has argued that the higher education system has pawned off the responsibility of educating students “in favour of pursuing a whole lot of self-interested research (which the majority of undergraduates are not involved in) that for the most part, doesn’t matter.”  He argues that we should spend less time worrying about university access for all, and more time on the “scandal” of the billions we waste on unsuccessful efforts to educate students who fail to graduate. “The focus of higher education reform should be on increasing the quality of our college graduates,” he writes. And that will never happen until students count for more than articles in unread quarterlies.

Continuing on with a series of articles in the Globe  the author suggests that we’ve been told that higher education is the key to prosperity in the post-industrial age. Our policymakers and politicians insist that expanding access to higher education is crucial to our economic fortunes. The trouble is this will only work if higher education actually succeeds in turning most students into better reasoners and thinkers. It does not.

Academically Adrift, a book that is today’s must-read in higher education circles found that a large number of students learn little or nothing in university. More than a third shows no improvement in their skills at all. The authors found that universities are full of “drifting dreamers,” with high ambitions, but no clear life plan for reaching them. For these students, university is primarily a social experience, not an academic one. (The research included only American universities but there is no reason to suspect the situation is any different in Canada.)

What does the research tell us according to the authors? They’re not hitting the books. On average, students spend only 12 hours a week studying, and are academically engaged for no more than 30 hours a week. Thirty-seven per cent spend less than five hours a week studying. Many academic programs are not particularly rigorous or demanding. Less than half the senior-year students surveyed had been required to complete more than 20 pages of writing for any course in the previous semester. Even so, graduation rates are stagnant or decreasing. Only 34% of American students finish a BA in four years, and only 64% in six years.

A lot of students are very good at strategic management of work requirements — that is, getting a degree with as little work as possible. On many campuses, students and professors have what the authors call “disengagement compact” – a mutual understanding that “I’ll leave you alone if you leave be alone.” The reasons aren’t hard to find. Because students are considered customers or clients, client satisfaction is tremendously important. Also, most professors would rather not teach. On average, faculty spend only 11 hours a week on preparing and delivering classroom instruction and advising students.

It’s a good thing that universities aren’t car companies. If they were, they’d be out of business. As higher- education critic Richard Vedder puts it, “We are sending too many kids to school to learn too little to get jobs for which often the little that they do learn is not even necessary.”

Why do we keep forking over billions to institutions that don’t deliver what they promise to so many of the people they are supposed to serve?

Our universities admit too many people, not too few. According to Ken Coates, dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Waterloo, and Bill Morrison, a retired history professor from the University of Northern British Columbia, they’re full of people who probably shouldn’t be there. Their new book, Campus Confidential,  is a bracing reality check that should be essential reading for would-be university students, their parents and anyone who thinks higher education holds all the answers.

The authors state that Canada already has one of the highest postsecondary participation rates in the world. Nearly half of all high-school graduates go to college or university. Tuition rates – especially for affluent families – are a bargain. Virtually anyone who wants to can get in somewhere. But many students aren’t sure why they’re there. “Canada’s national conceit is that all students who want to go to university should have the chance.  Other countries are not so egalitarian. They limit access to publicly funded universities to students who’ve demonstrated aptitude and motivation. The dirty secret of our system is that a dismally large portion of students you see on campus will fail to graduate.

The vast expansion of higher education hasn’t smartened up people. Instead, it’s dumbed down the standards. As most employers will attest, a BA degree no longer certifies that the holder will be able to read, write or communicate. And many (if not most) undergraduates are not interested in the material they’re studying. “The widespread perception is that fewer and fewer of them are participating beyond the bare minimum required for a degree,” the authors write.

Meantime, the return on investment for a general undergraduate degree has fallen sharply. What Canada really needs are people with trade and technical skills. There’s enormous demand for medical professionals, certain engineers, IT technicians, millwrights, plumbers and electricians – but not so much for BAs in sociology. Our graduates are mismatched to the job market.

On top of that, today’s university graduates aren’t just competing against each other – they’re competing against graduates from around the world who can handle our knowledge jobs at lower cost. Higher education by itself can’t solve Canada’s competitiveness problems. For that, we’re going to need a lot more smarts about what higher education can and should deliver.