In my previous post I waxed on the importance – and effectiveness – of good storytelling in higher education. Letting your community and stakeholders know what you are doing and why in creative and compelling ways provides great benefits for universities: not just in the potential for financial and other material support, engaging with business and industry, attracting new students and staff and the like, but also in creating an understandable narrative about what you stand for and why.

So,  storytelling is a vital part of marketing and public relations for individual universities.

But could good storytelling actually benefit the sector in its entirety? Professor Hamish Coates thinks so. He’s brought out a book on the subject entitled The Market For Learning and written a piece in this week’s Australian Higher Education Section explaining some of his views.

I can’t form a judgment on the book as I haven’t yet read it, but I like what I see in the article.

In it he sets out to explore how we might re-engineer the way we understand higher education and also to improve the system as it now stands and into the future. Vital to this is transparency, that is clearly and creatively communicating to the public what higher education is and what it stands for.

He argues that education leaders must take charge of developing more sophisticated, dynamic and relevant public reports of what is being done and achieved. Demystifying higher education, he says, “will unleash productive futures that prevailing discourse or practice are unlikely to realise”.

He writes:

“The public is asking more about the value of higher education. Is a university degree worth the cost, time and effort? Does it improve people, make them better citizens, create a more open and more scientific society? Does academic research serve as a catalyst for innovative change?

“Research makes clear higher education creates enormous value. Articulating this contribution to people who don’t know or perhaps don’t care about university has always been difficult. New conversations are required to help these people to see how higher education can help them succeed. The stories must engage a disinterested public. Rather than talk about their own immaculate histories, the sector must engage people and communities in imagining their own future options.”

I agree with him that transparency – open and clear communication about what higher education is seeking to achieve while not glossing over its failures – is vital to the future of higher education because without public support it runs the risk of fading and diminishing in importance.

And so we get back to good storytelling. It sounds simple but we are dealing with a multifaceted area which can be intimidating in its complexity.

Just like the rest of life really.