Read and reflect

The news this morning that Johnston Press might collapse, carried on the BBC web site, is a further sign of the changes being wrought by technological innovations on our world. Both the retailing and publishing industries have been badly affected by the arrival of the internet. Nobody cannot say that they didn’t see the changes coming, especially in publishing. I recall, about the time that Rupert Murdoch sold the Times educational supplements, seeking out a book he had mentioned in a speech to a gathering of the great and the good of the world’s press. In the book was a chart showing changes in the readership of newspapers by different age-groups after the arrival on the scene of first radio and then television. A third line suggested what the arrival of the internet might also do to print news readership.

Interestingly, a couple of years before that speech, in the autumn of 1997, just after I quit being the government’s Adviser on Teacher Supply, I had written a report for the management at the TES about the possible effects of the internet on teacher recruitment advertising in print publications. The reason I recall this was because it was the first commission that Education Data Surveys ever received. Even at that time, some school districts in the USA were already looking at on-line recruitment possibilities and the New Zealand Government was already featuring vacancies in the government’s Education Gazette, as it still does today.

So, twenty years ago, the writing was already on the wall for those that wanted to read about the future. The TES wisely set up an on-line site for teacher vacancies and ran it in parallel with the print edition of the paper for many years. When News International sold the supplements, it was probable that recruitment advertising could cover the debt created on the purchase of the company. The key question was, how long could print advertising service the debt?

So long as the government at Westminster stayed away from the market, the TES always had a sporting chance to create a strategy to move its monopoly position with schools for recruitment advertising into the new world by offering great service at a price that reflected the lower costs of the new technology. But, if it squandered that brand loyalty, then its future would always be more challenging.

TeachVac was established as a free vacancy service more than four years ago to show how a low cost service could embrace the best of the new technology. Far cheaper to operate than either the TES or the government’s latest foray into vacancy advertising for teaching posts, TeachVac still demonstrates how existing paid for teacher vacancy platforms need to keep ahead of the curve.

I have no doubt that over the next few months we could see something happen at the TES. After all, it was put up for sale by its US owners in June, see https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/06/21/interesting-news/ after the 2017 annual results recorded a loss for possibly the first time in its history. There has been no public news of a sale almost six months on. Could the TES possibly go the way of the Johnston Press? I have no way of knowing. However, over the next few weeks as the owners evaluate both the 2018 draft accounts, plus the management reports from this term’s business, they will presumably be looking to what the future will hold. The Johnston Press restructuring came only a month after an attempt to find a buyer.

Even in this modern world, I firmly believe that there is a space for a successful and profitable on-line news, features and recruitment vehicle for the education world, operating in the private sector. How that will emerge may be as interesting and as uncomfortable a journey as British politics is today.  Top class journalism, a top class understanding of the on-line environment and where it is heading, plus a real awareness of the education scene and the labour market that creates so much of the potential revenue even today, will, I believe, be absolute necessities for success.

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Buy British education

At the end of July the DfE published a research report into ‘the UK revenue from education related exports and transnational education activity 2010-2014’ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/education-related-exports-and-transnational-education-activity The higher education sector is by far and away the largest contributor to revenue in this sector, increasing from 60% to 66% of the total income during this period.

Non-EU student income across the higher education sector increased by around 30% in current prices from £6.56 billion to £8.55 billion between 2010 and 2014. Income from research and other contracts rose by around 56% in current prices from £0.77 billion to £1.19 billion over the same period. Interestingly, income from both the further education sector and from English Language training fell during this period. The latter, it is said, because courses were shorter in length, thus providing lower fee income. The FE sector now accounts for just two per cent of overseas income. Some of the reduction may have as a result of the crackdown on private colleges and potential visa applications from those that after entry didn’t actually become students.

Independent schools witnessed a 28% growth in income from their UK based operations. They will also have benefitted from the return to the UK of any profits from their overseas campuses established in recent years. The transnational income for the schools sector increased by some 47%, based upon an estimate of the trend data. The local spending associated with this type of activity is excluded from the figures when calculating the transnational revenue figure.

Education publishing, the most mature of the product sectors selling education overseas, saw only an eight per cent growth during the period 2010 to 2014, whereas education related equipment sales increased in revenue terms by 20%, based on the estimate of trend data and education-related broadcasting by nearly a third at 31%. Publishing may find it hard to grown in the future, especially if students continue to switch from paper to on-line sources for information and learning materials. Books generally carry a much high profit margin than resources in new technologies in the same way that print advertising is more profitable than on-line for many publishers.

After BREXIT, the value of EU sales will be added to those generated in the rest of the world. This should pride a one-off change even if registrations from EU students and sales to schools and students in EU countries actually fall post 2019.

Education exporting is an area where both the Business Department and the DfE need to work closely together to encourage exports of educational goods and services and to support both education trade bodies and individual exporters. Fortunately, there is plenty of demand, as is shown on the government’s exporting web site.  However, the range of countries is quite narrow and excludes large sections of the world, especially in the Americas.

There are new potential sources of income such as those from on-line courses increasingly provided by both universities and private sector trainers. This could provide some companies with a lucrative new form of income that allows them to export without ever leaving the comfort of their home base.