Whilst contradictory in nature, a university’s goal is to make themselves both top of mind, or central, and distinctive in the sector in order to stand out. Understanding and ultimately influencing its brand perception is the way an institution can accomplish this.

Considering brands, Coca-Cola (in soft drinks) and McDonald’s (in fast food) are demonstrative examples of centrality – the first ones that come to mind in a large pool of comparable brands. On the other hand, brands high in distinctiveness are recognised for their uniqueness and rarely have direct rivalry with other relevant industry brands. Tesla (in automotive) is a prime example of this.

The World 100 Research Project for 2021/22 aimed to explore how the brand positioning of a university, from a centrality-distinctiveness perspective, can be influenced.

A challenge faced by higher education sector is setting one’s institution apart in a crowded industry that is fiercely competitive. This project critically analysed the brand positioning of universities and the interplay of reputation, ranking and pricing in the mix. Key elements of the research include surveying crucial international stakeholders such as prospective students and academics, and collecting views from institutional reputation leaders globally.

To help us cater reports to W100 members, we invited reputation leaders to participate by filling out a survey. These additional views will allowed for further, tailored analysis. The survey closed in September 2022, and the final report was released in October 2022.

The research, which took place between June and October 2022, aimed to explore several key questions: 

  • What makes a university distinctive, and how does it stand out from others? Do universities that are considered more distinctive have a better overall reputation?
  • Does brand awareness impact reputation? Could how well-known a university is factor into a judgement of institutional reputation?
  • What are the factors that influence the cost of tuition? Do higher ranked universities garner higher tuition, or could a higher rank justify a tuition fee price premium?

A few key findings

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