Sunderland College accused of ‘blatant’ ad-van stunt to poach students from rival providers

Sunderland College's city centre campus.
Sunderland College's city centre campus.

Sunderland College has been accused of a ‘blatant stunt’ to poach students from other education establishments after its advertising van was spotted outside their campuses.

The van – bearing words ‘Sure you’ve made the right choice? It’s not too late to change your mind’ – was parked outside East Durham College in Peterlee and South Tyneside College in South Shields on Thursday.

Sunderland College, which only weeks ago merged with Hartlepool Sixth Form College, said it had responded “appropriately” to “aggresive” advertising campaigns by other colleges.

But South Tyneside College principal Alison Maynard expressed her shock at the ‘blatant’ attempt to poach students.

She said: “As TES winners of FE College of the Year and Overall FE Provider of the Year, we are shocked at the lack of professionalism and best practice shown in taking the decision to carry out such a blatant publicity stunt clearly aimed at poaching students.

“At a time when the government is encouraging colleges to form closer partnerships for the benefit of themselves, their students, and the regional economy, it is poor judgement to say the least.”

We are shocked at the lack of professionalism and best practice shown in taking the decision to carry out such a blatant publicity stunt clearly aimed at poaching students

Alison Maynard, Principal, South Tyneside College

East Durham College principal Suzanne Duncan said she thought the van’s presence was part of a ‘planned campaign’.

She said: “I am extremely disappointed with the advertising tactic.

“Given the fact that it has been here as well as outside other colleges proves that it is part of a planned campaign.”

A representative from Sunderland College said: “Sunderland College has traditionally avoided directly marketing to our competitors’ students.

Suzanne Duncan

Suzanne Duncan

“However, we have seen a marked change in the way in which our competitors have targeted Sunderland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form College, which is now part of our portfolio. This has included aggressive campaigns booked at advertising sites literally meters away from our campuses – so it is important that we respond to this appropriately.

“The FE sector is extremely competitive and we do attract students from across the region, so it is important we market to those young people, so they know the options available to them and can make the most informed decision possible as to where to study.

“However, to be clear, the senior leadership team at the college immediately responded in a conciliatory way to the concerns raised by our competitors.”