On Branding and Private Universities

On Branding and Private Universities

November 3, 2016

The brand of a university is of course tied to the values embodied by the idea of a university. A university is a place of building capacity, potential and values of and for the youth of a country. To that end, there are technical dimensions to building capacity, i.e., endowing the university-goers with requisite technical skills in one or multiple disciplines. There are of course, non-technical dimensions to building capacity, such as leadership skills, social skills, stress-management skills, and a whole host of faculties associated with life-long wellness.

Given the above is a reductive summation of the role of a university, it is still a starting point for branding professionals with which to conceptualize branding strategies for universities. To take the example of private universities, since they are a more recent phenomenon compared to the public ones, and have had to co-exist in a very competitive market with around 80 universities in Dhaka city alone, it is worth considering branding strategies deployed so far.

The first generation of private universities in Bangladesh, ones that are now considered to be among the leading ones, initially relied heavily on attracting English Medium school students to their universities with the lure of exchange and transfer programs to US and Canada-based universities. The idea was also that by educating the most privileged of Bangladesh (usually, Dhaka), they would create alumni and ambassadors who by sheer dint of their individual privilege, would carry the brand of the university successfully (and also enhance it). Of course, some of these older generation private universities still attract English medium students but their demographic make-up has changed significantly as they have continued to scale-up (often exponentially). These universities now rely on the strength of their alumni records, career placements, faculty credentials, campus space, facilities, and so forth, to continue to enhance their brand.

Among the newer generation of private universities, some have done exceedingly well and can rival the older generation ones in terms of strength of faculty, research record, and a unique positioning in terms of the non-technical aspects of education (such as values). Given there is great consternation among us citizenry regarding the vulnerability of youth to external influences, in the light of involvement of private university students in recent acts of extremism – there is a clear space for universities that are willing to invest in and brand themselves via their unique approaches to the softer dimensions of education. There is space for engaging sophisticated resources in social and emotional learning (SEL) at our universities for the benefit of students. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a nonprofit organization that advocates and provides leadership for high quality SEL programming and learning standards, identifies five core competencies associated with SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, and responsible decision-making. Leading universities in the world such as Yale University has a center dedicated to SEL and their studies indicate that SEL is the most cost-effective approach to raising the youth’s emotional intelligence, academic productivity, relationship management with teachers, families, and friends, and sustained work-place success. SEL is also closely related to entrepreneurial success.

While some universities that I know of have already started investing significant resources in counseling services for students, many have not, although these are necessary steps towards ensuring a more holistic approach to education for our students, and are closely tied to opportunities for branding in a high-competitive academic sector.


Sajid Amit

Director, Center for Enterprise & Society, ULAB

Managing Partner of the Growth Institute (TGI)

He is also a Vivian B. Allen Foundation Scholar at Dartmouth College and a Richard Hofstadter Faculty Fellow at Columbia University.

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