Forward thinking colleges should be looking back

It is true that several universities are looking more closely at their brand identities [DW 27 March], but few will ever implement the radical overhaul they need to capture the imaginations of potential students.

Much has been made of the difficulty of appealing to a demographically diverse constituency, but it has two key characteristics: it is young and brand-literate. It follows that to attract intelligent and forward-thinking students, academic institutions need an identity that expresses those qualities.

The real reason universities hold back is that the red bricks are complacent in their fusty, establishment feel (which, to be fair, is a selling point for many students) and newer institutions feel compelled to emulate their older competitors (down to contemporary versions of coats of arms).

Given their inherent conservatism, they tend to choose large and institutional brand consultancies that are also not programmed to challenge convention.

Are there any exceptions to prove the rule? You have to look back to the Open University in the 1960s to find an example of truly progressive thought that captured the spirit of the age and still encapsulates the aspirations of its students.

Unshackled by convention, its identity was driven by Lord Crowther’s vision of a virtual university without ‘boundaries of space’.

Today, universities could do more to express their forward-thinking self images, but it may take a series of 21st century Lord Crowthers to rise to this challenge.

Ben Duckett

Creative director

Happydog

London NW1

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