A positioning theory perspective on enrolment targets : the case of UKZN's foundation programme.
Universities, like many other service organisations are operating in a competitive environment aiming to attract the best students. It is therefore important for them to understand how they are positioned in the minds of their target market. “Positioning is the image the product or service has in the mind of the consumer” (Walker, Mullins and Larreche, 2008, p.150). Since its inception the Foundation Programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has been more successful in meeting its enrolment targets than in recent years where this has not been the case on the Pietermaritzburg campus. This study attempted to help understand the reasons for this and in doing so investigated the effect of a number of possible factors contributing towards this problem. These factors included the positioning of the programme to its target market, the needs of target market, the effect of competing universities, the availability of Financial Aid, the merger between the Universities of Natal and Durban-Westville and the introduction of the Augmented programme. The Foundation Programme’s target market includes learners from disadvantaged schools in South Africa. Grade 12 learners doing Science and Mathematics from this target marker were the chosen participants for this study. Seven objectives were set to address this research problem. Using a positioning framework the first objective was to identify the determining dimensions, i.e. what factors are looked by the target market when choosing an access programme and university. The second objective was to establish how various products were rated on those dimensions to determine how the Foundation programme is positioned within the target market relative to competing programmes. The third objective was to assess whether the needs of access students are incorporated into the way the programme is positioned. Determining the perceptions of the target market of the adverting strategies for this programme was the fourth objective. The fifth objective was to examine the effect of Financial Aid, or the lack thereof, on the perceptions of the target market. The sixth objective was to evaluate the effect of the merger on the perceptions of the target market, and the final objective was to critically evaluate the impact of the introduction of the Augmented programme on the enrolment numbers. The triangulation methodology was followed for this study. Firstly the researcher used literature to identify the key attributes and issues surrounding this study. The data collection consisted of two stages: qualitative research which included focus groups (Stage 1) and quantitative research which included questionnaires (Stage 2). The literature was used to develop Stage 1 of the data collection and the findings of Stage 1 were used to develop Stage 2 of the data collection. All three areas are brought together in the discussion and conclusions. The data was analysed using Excel and SPSS. Issues of reliability and validity were addressed throughout this study. The findings of this study showed that the overall positioning of Foundation Programme is not aligned to the needs of the target market. UKZN is seen very positively and was given the highest rating compared to competing universities. However there are still gaps between where UKZN is in the mind of its target market and where their needs are. The biggest gap was in the area of financial assistance and this was followed by infrastructure of the university. Both these factors are of particular importance to the target market because of their disadvantaged background. The findings also showed that amongst the target market there is not enough awareness of access programmes in general and in particular the access programme at UKZN. The Centre for Science Access’s (CSA) advertising isn’t reaching a substantial portion of the target market. The merger did not have any negative effect on the target market’s choice of which university to attend. However since the merger what has happened is that the pool of applicants is being shared across the two centres of the CSA. The Augmented Programme has also not affected the enrolment targets of the Foundation Programme, rather it has affected the “quality” of students in the Foundation Programme. If the Augmented Programme was not introduced the Foundation Programme would be taking in students with higher matric scores. Recommendations were made to improve the position of the Foundation Programme in the minds of its target market. These were directed to the CSA management, UKZN policy makers and the Department of Education.