Don't put your eggs in one basket: how to diversify your university's income


With Brexit less than a year away it’s time to prepare. In my last article, I talked about getting very clear on what your university has to offer your students. This is crucial, but don’t stop there.

In business, one of the keys to longevity can be diversification. It is, simply put, the old rule of not putting all your eggs in one basket. In other words, don’t rely on student tuition fees as your sole source of income. If you do, you make yourself too vulnerable to external changes such as Brexit or government whims.

Think about where your university can add value. What do you do or know that people or businesses would be willing to pay for?

Look at what alternative income streams you can add to your portfolio. This could be intellectual property or patents developed through research or perhaps a new strand of executive or custom courses. Your university may already have a commercial unit to develop these types of projects that you can collaborate with. While you might have to do some work to create a saleable product, you are likely to find that the resources (the knowledge and skills to be sold) already exist among your faculty and staff.

As a communications or marketing professional, you are ideally located to come up with new ideas for products. You are often the link between the academics and the outside world. This means you are placed perfectly to pick up on any special interest in research and teaching programmes from the press, business or other organisations.

Spotting potential products in your daily work

When you are in contact with your organisation’s researchers think about not just how to promote their latest findings, but also whether or not there is something in their work that others would be willing to pay for. It could be an element worth patenting that could potentially lead to further funding. Or it could be a piece of knowledge that could be of value to the public or perhaps business. Is there a course not aimed at typical university students hidden in their research? Perhaps for executives in business or practitioners in health care?

At LSE, leadership and management expert Dr Connson Locke has found a way to make her expertise useful and available to the wider public. Of course she teaches on her department’s core programmes and executive courses, but she has also developed a three week programme on presence, power and influence with The Guardian and she is the course convenor for LSE’s new 10-week online programme MBA Essentials.

Even if you are not in a position to develop a potential new product as a marketing professional, you are in a position to see the possibilities, explore them and suggest ideas.

I spent a long time working in book publishing and one of the things the publishing industry has perfected is the inclusion of the marketing department in product development. You will not see a book from a major publisher that has not been okayed by the marketing team for it’s saleability. So while product development may not be your remit, get involved anyway.

Of course, building new income streams takes time and effort which is why starting today will set you and your organisation up for a better tomorrow. It’s all about turning on your business brain and seeing possibilities in the changes coming rather than hindrances.

Pernille Norregaard is a communications and marketing expert with over 15 years’ experience. She specialises in communications management in purpose-driven organisations and Higher Education. Read more here.