From education to employment

FE – the Uber way

Here is a lesson for FE. Look around you. The world is changing. Driverless cars, drones and Uber are using technology and changing the world we know. But I hear you say, “Surely not in education, we don’t need to change. We’ve always done it this way and change is neither wanted or needed here”.

Change is always resisted. Taxis drivers don’t want Uber and, worldwide, are staging protests. Hotels and B&Bs don’t want AirBNB and are also protesting. Both claim their right to operate in a traditional way is being compromised by these upstart businesses. New businesses that allegedly use technology to grab market share, but provide an inferior product; or so it is claimed

Before dismissing Uber, AirBNB and their like, remember one thing. They will rise or fall based on one thing. Customer acceptance.

It doesn’t matter whether they think the service provided is inferior or unsafe, or prone to online rip offs, to name but a few arguments frequently trotted out. What matters is what the customer perceives and how they respond.

If the customer rejects the traditional route and accepts the new offer it will succeed. Taxis, accommodation and every other old concept that has been revamped due to technology, or for whatever other reason, will succeed and the old order will suffer ….. provided the customer accepts them.

Isn’t it time that London cabbies and traditional hotels and B&Bs objectively considered these upstarts and adopted the best aspects of them. Combine the speed, cost and efficiency of Uber with the “knowledge” of a London cabbie and you have a service that will win against Uber as it now operates.

The argument that taxi prices etc are set by law is a red herring. Laws can be changed.

Taxis and others affected by change have a choice. Resist or change. Rather than resist, perhaps they should objectively talk to their customers and prospects.

Is FE any different?

Why Uber disrupts traditional (FE) thinking

There is nothing inherently clever about using technology or new software. The printing press was a technology that was meaningless in itself; as was the telephone and email. What made them disruptive was they way people then used them to do things differently.

Uber hasn’t just applied technology to a process. Uber has rethought the entire process and used technology to re-engineer the process. It has abandoned traditional thinking and reconsidered the whole process. It then designs a new process around customer need.

Uber uses technology to gather larges amounts of information that gets the nearest taxi to the customer quickly, and it makes the customer side of the process as easy as a couple of clicks on a mobile phone.

You can’t order a Black cab as easily; but if you insist on a Black cab you can stand in the rain waiting for an empty cab for a long time, especially if you are a distance from a main thoroughfare. From a customer perspective there is no comparison. Uber wins hands down in so many ways.

FE is not immune to Uberisation

Don’t for a moment think FE is immune to change. It has already started to pervade our sector, but most of us have yet to notice it. For example one of my colleagues launched an education course for business start ups last year and grossed $1m in sales in a matter of months. Since then he has launched course number two and is well on the way to $2.5m in sales. And what happens in $ soon comes across the Atlantic and will be measured in £sterling.

Indeed, here in England we have many private providers that have turned the FE market on its head. Sadly, in many cases, they are not even on traditional FE’s radar. For more details read the article I wrote last April entitled How can providers balance the budget? See how they break the traditional FE mould. See how they are Uberised.

Budgetary Pressures will drive Uberisation

Budget pressure, Area Reviews and customers will eventually provoke either a better FE service or the total demise of traditional FE. The writing is on the wall.

We have a choice. We either offer the same old FE model or we ask our customers what they really want. Do they really want traditional terms, traditional hours, classes taught in the traditional way and huge sums spent on new buildings that stand empty 20 weeks of the year? Or do they want a new look FE that suits their real needs?

Have we ever asked them without couching our questions in the expectation of a traditional answer?

And if we turn the question on its head, do we want to be chained to a model that makes us dependent on the traditional incomer streams? Isn’t it time we sought some choices that would allow the sector to thrive in a world of change?

One thing is for sure. The present model cannot continue. We need to talk to our customers … and those that are outside our traditional markets .. to discover what they want. And we need to cut our dependence on a model of funding that delivers cuts every year. Only then might we find a way to survive the changes that will otherwise be imposed upon the sector.

Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US – visit: and

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