Within the latest decades, the institutions of higher education have shifted from cooperative faculty-based organizations to corporate business entities. The leadership and decision-making inside universities now take place under the influence of market forces. The issues of offer and request, service delivery, and target market play a significant role in the strategic planning and performance of universities.
In the United Arab Emirates, there are many higher education institutions that operate under the forces of corporate management. One of the most influential and developed universities in the country is Khalifa University, located in Abu-Dhabi. The current marketing plan views the allocated university as a business and aims at providing a service overview, current marketing situation, analysis of threats and opportunities, its marketing goals and objectives, segmentation, product and price strategies, as well as promotional approach. The marketing plan will be carried out on the basis of credible sources of information, SWOT analysis, and the 4Ps approach. The marketing performance of Khalifa University will be evaluated as per its advantages and disadvantages in the competitive environment.
Khalifa University is one of the biggest scientific institutions of higher education in the UAE. It provides educational services for students in the UAE, including residents and non-residents. Khalifa University of Science, Technology, and Research (KUSTAR) was established as one of the country’s leading educational and research facilities capable of meeting the innovative needs of the post-oil research-based economy. KUSTAR is a successful entity performing outstandingly in its respective field. The entity provides a number of services in both research and educational dimensions.
There are three scientific institutes including Masdar Institute, Petroleum Institute, and Artificial Intelligence Institute, all of which make a significant contribution to the country’s research sphere (“About Us”). There are 16 research centers that provide services in “exploring a diverse range of energy, water, aerospace, and information, and communication technology challenges” (“About Us”). Educational services include the admission of students to courses within three degrees, including undergraduate, Master’s, and Doctoral programs.
There are numerous specialties available to the customers across three colleges, namely College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, and College of Medicine and Health Sciences (“About Us”). The university obtains accreditation and is “an independent, non-profit, coeducational institution with its own Board of Trustees that is accountable to the Government of Abu Dhabi for its charter” (“About Us”). The scope of services concentrates primarily on scientific programs but manages to cover a substantial array of multiple disciplines that are aimed at satisfying the educational needs of a variety of market segments.
Current Marketing Situation
The educational market in the UAE currently undergoes a significant increase in the number of actors and opportunities for higher educational institutions’ growth. The UAE positions itself as a center of education in the Arab region and makes efforts to attract more students from abroad as well as from all the Arab countries (Ahmad and Hussain 1340). According to Wilkins, the majority of higher educational institutions in the country uses competitive strategies that allow them to prioritize particular market segments and provide specifically designed services for students united by similarities in needs and demographics (141-142).
Importantly, in the light of recent tendencies in the market, the neoliberal management style forces the entities to intensify their competitive strategies (Taylor 109). Such an approach allows for steady growth and more business opportunities for universities in the UAE.
Overall, the educational sphere in the region develops within the direction of innovation, scientific advancement, diversity, and international partnership. As Hall states, the entities in the educational field strive to ensure effective outcomes of the commercial partnership while preserving “academic freedom and freedom of association” (75). In general, the sphere undergoes significant intensification in growth.
Its compound annual growth rate is estimated at around 5 percent; the driving factor of the development of this market is the growth of the number of student enrollments, which is estimated at over 335,000 (“Education Market in UAE 2018-2022”). Another distinctive feature of the educational field of the UAE is the fact that several organizations obtain market share, thus forming the basis for intensive competition.
Like any other business entity, universities encounter significant competition when entering and remaining in the market. Khalifa University is currently ranked 28th best in Asia and first best in the UAE, which places it at the top of the competitive ladder (“About Us”). Despite high ranking and a wide range of educational and researching services, Khalifa University faces significant competition on the national level. Some of the main competitors are Abu Dhabi University, United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), and American University of Sharjah (AUS).
On the contrary to the information stated on the company’s website, the newly released ranking demonstrates that Khalifa University has yielded its number 1 ranking to UAEU (“Ranking Web of Universities”). Consequently, KUSTER is followed by AUS, the University of Sharjah, and Zayed University.
When analyzing the competition by different dimensions, one should state that Khalifa University has the highest presence and impact ranks among its main competitors. However, it loses its leading position within the openness and excellence ranks (“Ranking Web of Universities”). Although all of the competitors offer the same type of product, which is educational services, they provide different types of programs and specialties, which determine the differences in their respective markets.
For example, the leading competitor, UAEU, offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs in eight colleges, among which Business and Economics, Education, Food and Agriculture, Humanities and Social Sciences, IT, and Law, which are not separately available from KUSTAR (“About UAEU”). Therefore, Khalifa University’s current marketing situation is characterized by strong competition inside the country from the country.
As for the distribution of its educational services, Khalifa University utilizes various means to reach its customers. The university ensures various types of learning and ensures international cooperation to attract a wide population of students. The organization establishes “active relationships and strategic partnerships” with universities from other countries (“About Us”). Students have an opportunity to transfer from one institution to another, obtain sponsorship, employment, internship, and exchange of students with the universities in the USA, Japan, Australia, Korea, China, and Italy (“About Us”). Such a complex approach to the distribution of services enables the organization to enter the international market and increase the domestic market share by means of attracting a higher number of enrolled students.
Threats and Opportunities
Having reviewed the current marketing situation, it is relevant to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of Khalifa University as per its performance in the market. SWOT analysis allows for collecting data on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the organization. It is important to state that Khalifa University is an organization with a relatively short history of active performance in the field of education but has successfully entered both domestic and international competition (“About Us”). Its proactive leadership ensures continuous growth within the scientific and educational fields with the aim of contributing to the national economy.
Figure 1. SWOT Analysis.
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As the SWOT analysis shows, there are more strong features and opportunities than threats and weaknesses for Khalifa University. The company has gained the reputation of a professional university and a reliable partner on an international scale. It graduates numerous professionals in science and engineering, which are crucial for the country and the world at the time of green economy trends.
Despite growing competition in the market, the university manages to strengthen its international ties and occupy a solid market share. However, the recent change in the ranking, due to which KUSTAR has lost its leading position to UAEU, there is a need to address the identified weaknesses and threats in the strategic planning of the organization. In such a manner, Khalifa University will be able to overcome the obstacles, win the competitions, and ensure the completion of its mission.
The university in the twenty-first century is commonly perceived as a business entity that operates under the influence of market forces. Therefore, each university is expected to define its mission as per its anticipated contribution to the development and well-being of society. As for Khalifa University, its mission lies in “integrating research and education to produce world leaders and critical thinkers in applied science and engineering” (“About Us”). By stating this mission as a priority, the organization emphasizes its primary branches of educational services (applied sciences and engineering) and defines its potential to provide in-depth research within the crucial areas of the modern world economy.
Also, the university that functions as a business unit establishes a specifically designed business development department responsible for the strategic business growth of the organization. According to Kalifa University’s strategic plan, it aims at “sustainability and revenue growth” through the continuous attraction of funding to the university (“About Us”). The business priority is to ensure long-term development within the two most important spheres.
They include strengthening the university’s revenue streams via creating new profit channels using “new business opportunities and external partnerships,” as well as improvement of the usage capacity of current assets for business development (“About Us”). In such a manner, Khalifa University sets the priorities on its business growth through the implementation of the specific goals within the realm of its educational and research performance.
Marketing Objective and Goals
Under the influence of globalization trends prevailing in the sphere of higher education, universities apply strategic marketing decisions to ensure their competitive advantages in the market. Overall, the primary goals of higher educational institutions are related to competing over intellectual resources, student enrollment, and world rankings (Stukalina 615). Importantly, continuous pressure of competition is the main driving force that provokes an improvement in the universities’ performance. Therefore, higher educational organizations set specific marketing objectives and goals to align their growth efforts with the requirements of the market.
Khalifa University prioritizes its global presence and leading position in science and engineering as the most potential areas for growth. Its main marketing objective is to ensure the sustainability of development at the leading position among the competing UAE universities with the aim of increasing revenue (“About US”). The currently applied efforts to ensure its presence in the media and online resources demonstrate KUSTAR’s goals at intensifying its representation in social media to reach more customers.
For that matter, the university ensures its presence on such websites as Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. The pages of Khalifa University on these media are aimed at providing information about the available services, the accomplishments, advantages, and contributions of the facility (“Khalifa University”). Thus, the goal of improvement in online presence is closely connected with the goal of attracting more students. Indeed, the business development strategic plan prioritizes advertising and online presence as a way of increasing the inflow of new students. The means of the Internet allow for spreading the influence of prospective customers across the globe, which serves as an empowerment factor within the strategy of international cooperation.
Indeed, the intensification of international partnerships for better business opportunities is another marketing goal of Khalifa University. The entity applies popularization strategies to intensify exchange programs, sponsorship, and scholarships for foreign students (“About US”). Also, the university pursues the goal of promoting its services in education in the field of applied sciences and engineering to lead the knowledge-driven economic development of the UAE.
The achievement of all these goals will allow Khalifa University to maintain its current market share and increase it by means of overcoming its leading competitor. Also, the attraction of more students, especially customers from abroad, will allow for increasing the sales volume. It is anticipated to increase the sales volume and profit by approximately 5 percent, which is assumed from the recent estimations (“Education Market in UAE 2018-2022”). Finally, the leadership of the organization pays attention to brand recognition and views the promotion and strengthening of the university’s brand as one of the main marketing goals.
Thus, the identified marketing objective and goals of Khalifa University align with the general marketing trends in the business of educational institutions globally. Universities strive to expand the target market and ensure brand recognition to compete over customers. Under the influence of globalization, the marketing strategies of the universities depend on numerous external factors, according to which higher educational institutions prioritize the attraction of a diverse population of students (Stukalina 618). Therefore, the marketing strategy of Khalifa University is based on important objectives and goals, which define the marketing performance of the organization.
Segmentation and Target Market
The identification of the target market is crucial for any business entity. Under the circumstances when universities operate as corporate organizations, the issue of market targeting and segmentation also becomes relevant to such entities. According to Curtis and Allen, the target market of any company “is comprised of customers that have a need for a specific product or service and are willing to pay a profitable price for it” (1). With the rising importance of knowledge and education in the science- and technology-driven economies, students as a target market of universities are subjected to segmentation as per various particularities.
When segmenting the target market, a university identifies the groups of the population that are unified by similar features in socio-economic status, values, occupation, location, or learning preferences. As Hemsley-Brown states, the process of market segmentation is based on marketing research and marketing knowledge (1). The understanding of the needs of potential students and the ability to address them through the provision of educational services within the university programs are the core of proper segmentation in higher education.
Overall, Hemsley-Brown defines four main variables used for grouping the target market into segments; they include “geographic, demographic, behavioral, and psychographic” (2). The division of potential customers, according to these four characteristics allows for distributing the offered services with respect to the needs of each segment.
Psychographic segmentation divides prospective customers into groups according to their values, behaviors, and lifestyles. When granting a number of scholarships, Khalifa University financially supports talented and intellectual students with limited resources, thus providing them with an opportunity to obtain a degree in one of the programs available from the university. The undergraduate scholarships include the following: Khalifa University Scholarship; ADNOC Scholarship Program; Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) Scholarship “Betha”; UAE Nuclear Energy Scholarship Program (ENEC & FANR); National Electronic Security Authority (NESA) – Tamayuz Scholarship Program; and The Future Teachers Scholarship (“About Us”). They are available for both citizens of the UAE and international students and might be offered on partial or full terms.
In such a manner, the university addresses psychographic segmentation of the market and distributes the accessibility of its services to the customers with various financial means. Such an approach ensures the selection of the most talented individuals for better academic performance and consecutive valuable contributions to science and research. At the same time, for postgraduate students, KUSTAR offers “full scholarships to all admitted Emirati and international students” (“About Us”). In such a way, the organization supports the development of high-expertise professional development and ensures its impact in the market.
As for demographic segmentation, Khalifa University positions itself as an international educational facility and enrolls both the UAE residents and international students. Overall, more than 50 nationalities are represented on the campuses of KUSTAR, both students and educators. In addition, students of different ages are accepted into the educational process. Importantly, over 58% of all student population consists of female students, which meets the demands of contemporary society (“About Us”). The diversity that characterizes the campuses of KUSTAR goes in accord with the recent globalization trends, where people from different countries and of various nationalities have equal opportunities to obtain the same quality of services.
Geographic segmentation is based on the principle of locating the facilities according to the residence of the prospective customers. As for Khalifa University, its main facilities are situated in the capital city of Abu Dhabi, while there are several campuses distributed to other big cities of the country (“About Us”). In such a manner, the organization attracts students from big cities, where the population is numerous, and the opportunity to enroll many customers is high. At the same time, the extensive transitioning and exchange programs, as well as active international partnership allow for expanding the application of geographical factors and increase the scope of the target population.
Finally, behavioral segmentation allows for targeting people of various learning patterns and residential preferences. The wide range of educational opportunities at Khalifa University prioritizes in-campus education. Extensive student support, sports, and recreation activities available within the curriculum address the various needs of the students. Consequently, based on the applied segmentation strategies, one might define a target market of Khalifa University as a significant segment of people residing in various corners of the world. They might be of different ages, nationalities, or gender. The leading unifying feature of the target market is the willingness to obtain an undergraduate, Masters or Doctoral Degree in applied sciences or engineering.
Product and Price strategies
The intensive development of the educational market imposes significant difficulties for universities to maintain their competitive advantages and occupy a solid market share. To ensure its stable presence in the market and its sustainable development, the university needs to apply strategic planning to the crucial elements of business to facilitate its performance. It is best to identify the main aspects of performance by applying the 4Ps marketing mix, which includes the product, price, place, and promotion (Samanian and Khosropanah 758-759). The analysis of these items of the marketing mix for Khalifa University will allow for identifying the organization’s developmental strategy.
Product provided by the university is the educational services and research services within the narrowly defined specialties. The services are developed with an emphasis on the current global demand for knowledge-based drivers of the economy. Technological advancement and innovation are the primary requirements of the global economy, which is why Khalifa University aligns its product with the demands of the market.
Price strategies utilized by KUSTAR are aimed at a narrow segment of medium- and higher-income customers. Such an approach allows for ensuring stable revenue growth and continuous university funding. The cost of education at the organization is presented as follows: “the undergraduate program costs 3,333 AED per credit hour; the Master’s program costs 5,000 AED per credit hour; the Doctorate programs cost 6,666 AED per credit hour” (“About Us”). At the same time, Khalifa University offers a wide range of scholarships to support low-income students.
Place within the marketing mix is extensively utilized for the business development of the university. The headquarters and main campuses are located in the capital city of Abu Dhabi, which is a scientific, educational, and financial center (“About Us”). Such a location allows for attracting the intellectual resources of the country for the benefit of the organization. At the same time, the university marketing strategy incorporates the importance of a broader application of place and locates its facilities in other cities of the UAE, as well as insures the global presence of the Khalifa University’s services via the international partnership.
Promotional activities of the university are based on the enhanced advancement of the information available in different institutions and media. Advertising campaigns initiated by the organization are aimed at attracting more students globally. It popularizes the scope of its programs and colleges, as well as competitive advantages and achievements to create an image of a reputable higher educational institution with continuous development in order to lead the UAE scientific field and economic advancement.
Promotional Strategies with a Focus on Digital Promotional Tools
When discussing the promotional strategies applied within the digital environment, one should state that Khalifa University pays much attention to its public image as it is represented in social media. Its website provides substantial information needed for both customers and partners. The means of digital advertising are actively utilized since the admission information, and research cooperation information is available throughout various online educational resources. Due to the fact that Khalifa University prioritizes its growth by means of international cooperation and attraction of foreign students, digital promotional tools constitute the basis for international promotion.
In summation, Khalifa University, as well as any other modern higher educational institution, operates according to the influence of market forces. The rising importance of educational services in the modern-day global economy imposes significant competition in this sphere. KUSTAR applies effective target market segmentation and promotional strategies to maintain its leading position in the market and ensure its long-term sustainable development in the field of applied sciences and engineering. Growing competition and the limited number of colleges available to customers might threaten the stability of Khalifa University’s position. However, the utilized strong marketing strategies and adherence to strictly defined marketing objectives will help the business to achieve its performance excellence.
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