The education sector has felt the disruption of the last 15 months more keenly than most. From early years to universities, the provision of learning has been turned upside down and had to rally through so many challenges.
As we optimistically look to a more settled, 'normal' future, the financial aftershock of Covid-19 is going to reverberate for some time yet.
Financial Black Holes
Wherever you look across the education sector there are revenue holes that need filling, either from loss of income or to remediate the impact that school closures have had on children and young adults.
At the same time the public purse is stretched beyond recognition, and families are likely to see further financial challenges as the end of furlough support will undoubtedy signal a raft of redundancies.
Universities have seen falling applications (as much as 24% down, £2.5Bn in revenue terms) from restrictions and health concerns for foreign students, and home based students deferring. Accomodation income has fallen and may be slow to recover as more young people decide to stay in their home town.
Furthermore, last month's student finance reforms (The Independent) are going to have school leavers thinking even harder about the cost of higher education, as student loan repayments become less favourable, particularly for poorer graduates.
Schools will need financial support to fund catch-up and wellbeing programmes for England (Sec Ed). And whilst the government is committing £250 per pupil, it seems woefully short of what is considered to be needed and of the 6 and 10 times higher packages on offer in the US and Netherlands respectively.
The private school sector, particularly the lower cost fee paying providers, will inevitably feel a pinch from the knock on impact on their pupil's parents livelihoods. With a heavy reliance on fee income and a lack of diversified sources of finance, there will be some very challenging months ahead (Unicef).
A wealth of assets
Financial pressures like these will always lead to cost cutting behaviours, but whilst there will inevitably be some impact on jobs, income generation is obviously a more positive solution to the problem.
Many institutions, particularly higher education, further education and private school ones, have a wealth of facilities and specialist services that have commercial value to businesses and individuals.
And some of the post covid trends in working patterns, sustainability and focus on health present even more opportunities for income.
There is a long list of monetisable services with lots of variety in how and to whom these are offered:
- Indoor meeting and event space
- Outdoor event and activity space
- Sports and leisure facilities
- Drop-in space for work and catch-ups (in a remote working world), especially with free parking
- Production facilities and expertise (to support the evolution to hybrid meetings and events)
- Specilialist equipment like laboratories and media studios
- Access to experts for coaching and consulting
Accessing the Revenue
The secret to maximising the opportunity from these assets lies in:
- Undertaking a facilities and occupancy audit
- Developing targeted marketing content to sell them
- Reaching the target market with your sales and marketing messages
- Making it simple for customers to buy, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY
- Ensuring your commercial operation works in harmony, and doesn't undermine, your priority as a provider of education
The first thing to understand is what the potential for commercial supply of facilities is at the campus. What resources do you have that there might be public demand for?
Yes, there's space for meetings and conferencing amongst the classroom and lecture theatre portfolio, but what about sports facilities and specialist spaces. These can be used to provide experiences, strategy days with a twist, short courses, summer schools. And what about the value of the experts and technicians in these spaces to provide services to the public.
By auditing the current occupancy of your facilities (during term and out of term hours, weekdays, evenings and weekends) you can create a picture of what commercial availability you can generate and importantly, in a way that can be presented back to academic leaders to reassure them that there won't be reduction in availability for teaching and research.
Once you've formed a picture of supply, it becomes about proving and executing against demand.
2,3 and 4 are basic principles of a sales funnel. Know your customer and design your services to meet the outcomes they are trying to achieve. Recognise that no-one will buy from you if they don't know you exist and / or offer the thing that they want. Understand that people give up if the thing they want is too difficult to buy.
You have to speak to their needs in your outbound marketing. You have to make sure your services have strong exposure across your website, digital channels, and 3rd party lead generatiuon sites. And you have to make it easy for people to book facilities and services, there and then.
Number 4 has to be absolutely right. In spite of the value of these commercial revenue streams, you must continue to be 100% focused on providing your principal service to your most significant customers.
That's why your commercial operation has to be aligned to your educational one. With timetabling and extra curricular needs factored into availability seamlessly, and other considerations like safeguarding and general visitor rules accounted for with an efficient guest registration and management process.
SOFTWARE AS AN ENABLER
Given the prioritisation of educational needs and student wellbeing, commercial activity often becomes a sub-optimal juggling act, but it doesn't need to be that way.
With the right software solution that captures the particulars of each of your commercial assets and the rules around their availability, coupled with a digital integration to your timetabling system and drag and drop overrides you present your assets for instant booking. This can be done directly through your website and through integrations with 3rd party aggregators instantly giving you greater reach, better conversion and less administrative overhead.
This is of real value when selling small meetings, sport facilities and equipment hire, where the customer is looking for a simple online route to transacting.
If your software solution then has a detailed customer managament portal, with guest registration, set arrival times and digital check-in to the venue, you can have complete certainty over who is on site and when, and manage pre and post visit communications with every guest.
Our Switch solution is completely configurable and as a cloud based, open API solution can be integrated with all sorts of other software that your institution uses day to day.
All your commercial resources can be defined and segmented in packages for sale, with a full CRM solution that sits alongside the property management tools that the system has.
It is challenging running a commercial events and facilities hire business alongside your primary role as an educational establishment, but the barriers can be overcome and the rewards - at a time when income generation is a pressing priority - are significant.