A power shift in public-private partnerships

In the relatively short time since public-private partnerships have become prevalent in higher education, competition for students and new technological trends too have gained momentum. And the result? Tighter, yet fluid relationships.

“The most striking thing has been that originally, companies in this space were seen as ‘suppliers’ by universities,” ventures Zoe Marlow, who works for award-winning consultancy Sannam S4. “Over time, they have grown and evolved to become much more of a partner.”

“In the case of Sannam S4, after 11 years we’re invited to give far-reaching strategic advice in a variety of countries, but particularly India and the US. Before, if you asked somebody about Sannam S4 they would typically say we deliver in-country representation solutions for a particular university; now that’s just one part of what we do.”

Universities increasingly realise that outsourcing for services where they simply don’t have the expertise or the time to invest makes sense, adds Marlow. 

CEO Lil Bremermann-Richard, who heads up the broad education business that is Oxford International Education Group, agrees with this: “We can respond faster, and we can establish overseas operations faster,” she says. In Oxford International’s case, Bremermann-Richard believes that less is more when it comes to building and delivering on partnerships.

“Our strategy is about having a tight group of partnerships that are strategically proficient, that do not compete with each other,” she tells The PIE.

“We can [operate faster] because we don’t have 15 or 20 university partners, we have four, and we plan to increase to maybe six or eight, but they will have to be the right partners for us.” And while many providers are now majoring in on direct recruitment, the traditional academic springboard model is still going strong.“Is the academic pathway market continuing to grow? Absolutely,” Bremermann-Richard says firmly.

“But the competition is no longer coming from the UK or US, and we’re seeing more students from countries where the middle class is growing because the economy is growing at a faster pace than in Europe.”