Marketing role of public relations units in Public Universities: a Comparative Study of three Cases in Ghana

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Universities worldwide are adopting various marketing strategies to attract both local and foreign students. In Ghana, the public universities have used some strategies to market themselves, especially in the face of increasing competition from the emerging private universities and those abroad. The strategies they use are mainly product planning, product pricing, promotion and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This study reviews existing marketing strategies used by three public universities to market themselves. The data collection methods used to gather the relevant information were field research — participant and nonparticipant observation,, in-depth interviews and review of relevant secondary documents. The findings of the study reveal that the marketing function is performed by several units in the universities. The Public Relations Units focus relatively more on promotion to address the target market, that is, the prospective students as against the other three marketing mix — products, price and place. Nevertheless, the Academic Boards, the Vice-Chancellors and the various Faculties, Institutes, Schools, Colleges and Departments of the universities focus on product planning and pricing decisions and strategies. The study also shows that not all the marketing activities are undertaken as part of a marketing programme. Many are designed as part of academic programmes and so have little marketing impact. As a result, many prospective students applying for admission to the universities do not have adequate knowledge of the programmes and courses of study as well as the entry requirements. For marketing to be effective in the universities, it is recommended that a unit be established in each university to concentrate on marketing activities. Since marketing and public relations complement each other, the Marketing and the Public Relations Units can be put under the Vice-Chancellor to enhance coherent planning and coordination of their activities. Secondly, programmes of study introduced by the universities are done intuitively with little scientific and marketing research in the labour market and the private sector to assess their relevance to prospective qualify to enter the universities, do not employees and the socio-economic development of Ghana. As a result, some of the programmes do not fully reflect the needs of the prospective student or market. The universities have not been able to attract a lot of foreign students to meet their 10% foreign students target set for them by the government. Thus, in the year 2001 academic year, out of the total enrolment of 14,325 in the three universities, only 489 representing 3.41% of the total intake was foreign students. It is recommended that the universities should undertake scientific marketing research in the labour market and private sector to come out with programmes that are marketable in Ghana and abroad. The study also reveals that the universities admit just about 40% of total applicants as a result of limited academic facilities, notably, lecture halls and lecturers. This has resulted in a backlog of students who, although gain admission. The proposed marketing unit should see to expedite action on the distance education and part time programmes to exploit the backlog of students for revenue. Lastly, the study reveals that the public universities charge about 90% of students a meagre amount of 2.10% of the cost of training in the form of Academic Facility User Fees. This is responsible for the cash-strapped status and poor development of the universities. For the public universities to run the institutions more effectively, efficiently and provide quality education to survive the emerging competition, they should charge appropriate fees to cover operational cost — tuition, residential facilities. It is the responsibility of the proposed marketing unit to come up with a package to educate the prospective students and the stakeholders on the need to pay fees.
A thesis submitted to the Department of Economics and Industrial Management, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Master of Arts degree in Industrial Management, 2003