“Brand is bettering realities, brand is creating experiences; brand is action”

I don’t want to discuss why LSE took the money from the GICDF in first place, or even the ethical complications with the donation. That moment has passed, I will say only this: to be a leading university in research, donations from funds to support further research are necessary, under the current education system, and they will continue to be in demand, under the coalition’s new regime.  LSE are not the only universities excepting donations from questionable sources, check the London Evening Standard for a different perspective. Its trial by media and LSE has been the current scapegoat.

So as the vultures’ circle; I want to focus on LSE’s ‘brand identity’ and if the current situation has affected its reputation. In Times Higher Education, LSE has a reputational ranking of 37th in the world but is 86th overall, and is 5th in the UK reputational rankings. So how important is an institution’s reputation? David Starkey’s damning comment on BBC’s Question Time: claiming LSE sells it degrees to the highest international bidder, as well as the plagiarism fiasco surrounding Gaddafi’s sons PhD, has called into question the integrity and thus the ‘brand’ of LSE.

What is LSE’s ‘brand identity’?

Currently, if you asked the average student about the brand of LSE, perhaps they would say we are an international student body, and élite institution that mainly produces bankers. However, on the walls of The Quad it is written: ‘does the world really need another accountant or investment wanker? (Oops! I did a Jim Naughtie) We are also known for being academic and determined; the fact that LSE library has a borrowing rate four times the national average speaks volumes. As students, we can be categorised as either wanting to save the world or make a ton of money.

Or is the LSE brand as my Father’s generation knows it: a school that professes to have some of the world’s leading academics, and globally renowned public lectures; with a politically hungry students protesting, occupying and storming lecture halls. Shouting, opinionated from the rooftops.  Historically, this is a school built on the socialist ideals of George Bernard Shaw, and Fabien Society’s Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

So who are we and how important is ‘brand identity’?

LSE’s ‘brand identity’ presently is properly both: perhaps more the former than the latter, however, it was politically hungry students that occupied Howard Davies’ office, helping ignite the media shit storm surrounding Libya. ‘Politically hungry’ you say, how so? Most of the students that occupied Howard’s office also stood for SU elections the following week. LSE students are fiercely driven; we pay a lot for our education and we expect a lot in return. In fact one might argue that we are far more vocal, passionate and demanding because we are an international student body; fighting against the stiff, British upper lip. We fight to get value for money, and why shouldn’t we?

We live in a world where it is more about who you know than what you know, and we know this; the degrees we confer are worth as much as the paper their written on. Exclusivity sells; Mark Zuckerberg knew this, hence LSE being one of the first UK universities to have Facebook. When you apply for university, you buy into the brand, you consider reputation when choosing a school; how will it appeal to the right businesses, will it set you on the right academic path and will it open doors for you. It’s not just about if it’s good for your course or how fun it’s going to be. Actually, how important is that anymore when employers say that academic achievements don’t really mean much, but more how you use your time to better yourself, to break boundaries and to try to be someone exceptional. Higher Education has become a bargaining tool, a commodity and not a good in itself. We live in a world where the élite universities don’t need to advertise, as their reputations are already engrained in our society. Yet a ‘brand and reputation are not static. They require care and management – especially when events threaten to tarnish an institution’ (THE). So, have current events tarnished the LSE brand?

Perhaps a little, but most probably not.

Why does it matter?

It matters because our education has become a commercial service. ‘The great push for status that is the curse of our times, and which (demands for) higher graduate contributions (to the cost of their education) will continue to increase’ (THE). We are buying a brand when we are buying our degrees, we buying into that brand and in turn it becomes our brand identity too, whether this be in the academic or professional world. Therefore, we want the premium brand, the good stuff; not Sainsbury’s chocolate digestive but McVities. ‘Premium brands can charge premium prices’ (THE), and in a country where the government wants to make a market in tuition fees, brand and reputation means everything!

So it matters, because our education system is under attack, we know, we’ve seen the supposedly violent students protests. However, where are the alternatives; where is the discourse offering real change and what’s so great about the system we’ve got? All these questions I cannot answer in this article; I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to answer them, and I/we may have to except that this is the system we’ve got.

So my point is this: my mother always used to say, that a house is not a home it’s the people in it, so if LSE’s brand identity is our brand identity, and by ‘our’ I don’t mean the council of governors, or Howard Davies or even the bricks and mortar of campus. I mean us, the students and alumni, WE ARE LSE, so we should be questioning how we’re represented.

We were some of the first to protest our links with Libya, then the media frenzy began then we bemoan Howard Davies’ resignation, yet did we not help start the witch hunt? Now I’m not saying occupying Howard Davies’ office was a bad move, but I think we should consider how we’re perceived and what affect our actions have on our brand. If brand is about ‘bettering realities’, ‘creating experiences’ and taking ‘action’, as Wolff Olins suggests, in my title, then in what way can our actions better our brand.

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