Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Why do brand and reputation matter to higher education?

August 9, 2017

And how do you maintain yours and stay top of the class?

Across all walks of life, reputation matters.

And as many universities know, reputation is intrinsically connected to brand. From Oxbridge to Redbrick, the most prestigious academic institutions either belong to elite groups or are established brands in themselves. Some have joined forces to create ‘super-brands’ – like the Russell Group, which trades on its universities’ research expertise. And in such a highly competitive market, a strong brand is as vital to universities as it is to any retailer or bank.

It’s important to students too. When it comes to choosing their universities, most overseas scholars put reputation and ranking above every other consideration. Even for UK students, who have traditionally focused on prospectus, location, fees etc., status has become a major consideration.

This is completely understandable; a university’s standing can enhance any student’s CV and open many doors. And for academic institutions, the right student intake can generate revenue – the lifeblood of any university and essential for improving facilities, introducing new courses and creating jobs. It also provides opportunities for making global contacts and achieving international recognition.

Held to ransom

In days gone by, risks to brand and reputation included competition from other universities, student behaviour, redundancies, and funding cuts, but more recently, malware has posed an increasingly worrying threat, and the growing number of attacks on universities indicate that it’s no longer a matter of if a security incident occurs, but when.

Reports from around the globe suggest that the education sector is more likely than any other to fall victim to ransomware attacks, where victims are forced to pay financial penalties before regaining access to their data. Frustratingly, many hackers sell the data anyway, doubling their profits and potentially destroying an organisation’s name.

Security in a connected world

Unfortunately, the very attributes that help to make a university desirable – accessibility and information sharing – also render it vulnerable.

However, before you batten down the hatches, remember that many – although by no means all – higher education students are in their teens or early 20s. Using Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, etc. is as natural to them as switching on a light, so they will naturally expect their learning environment to be online all the time.

Getting the balance right

It’s a juggling act. Universities must maintain the freedom to exploit the digital technology needed to facilitate innovative learning and collaboration with other universities and businesses. Yet at the same time, they must safeguard student, staff and research data in order to protect their reputation and brand.

It’s also essential that they keep their eye on the ball. Attackers and their tools are adapting at a faster pace and becoming increasingly more sophisticated, so simply blocking threats from infiltrating the network isn’t enough.

If that wasn’t all, when the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force next year, any organisation that is located or does business in, the EU will be mandated to protect personal data and report any breaches to the relevant authority within 72 hours; non- compliance will result in financial penalties.

Reflect and assess

While most organisations must accept that a breach will probably occur at some point, that doesn’t mean they need to panic or rush into making any buying decisions. Instead, start by thinking about how your systems would cope before, during and after an attack – check out our HE security advisory overview for further information. And in light of recent events, it’s also worth finding out the latest from Talos, our industry leading threat intelligence experts.

And finally, why not contact Cisco’s team of education experts direct.


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