Historical universities are at an advantage in branding terms, able to simply point to their long, illustrious histories and prestigious alumni.
We see many use the year of their foundation as a badge of honour. The University of Manchester’s current logo incorporates the year of its foundation (1824). The motto of the newly-founded Sorbonne University – which brings together disparate successor universities to the famous Parisian institution – refers to the year 1257, in which the original Sorbonne was founded. Peking University’s circular crest has the year 1898 at its base, while Stanford’s has 1891.
“[B]rand heritage is a mixture of the history as well as the consistency and continuity of core values, product brands, and visual symbols,” write Ulla Hakala, Sonja Lätti, and Birgitta Sandberg in the Journal of Product & Brand Management. We can see older institutions embrace this in their branding. Open the UCL website and you’ll be greater with a slideshow of the portico, a statue of St Michael, and a grand drone’s-eye view of the cruciform building, over text that points to the year of foundation (1824). Search for St Andrews and you’ll know it’s Scotland’s oldest university without even clicking the link…
Today, however, it’s not just 19th century or older institutions that can point to their lengthy years of operation. Today, we are now seeing institutions we think of as more modern able to point to long periods of operation.
The 1960s saw many new universities founded. Over the course of the 2010s, these institutions have marked their 50th anniversaries. Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, Australia’s Curtin University, and the UK’s University of Bradford are small selection that capitalised on this. Bradford’s 50@50 is particularly interesting – a successful campaign to reduce carbon emissions by 50% in its 50th year. A potent mix of heritage and modern concerns that points a desire to build a new kind of legacy.
For more insight into these campaigns, we can refer to UC Santa Cruz. The Californian institution published a blog looking at its plans to mark its 50th year. These extended to a specialised website, a series of articles, and even a music video! The goal was to reach 17 million people, with the goal of enhancing the university’s reputation. Here we can really see a sense of trying to make current and future students feel part of a half-century tradition. (Academic papers have been written on how younger institutions embrace the trappings of historical universities to create a sense of history).
Seeing those anniversaries marked in branding will create a sense of a university’s heritage for applicants, and also may well point to a longer history than some would have suspected. Creating a timeline of the university’s history can also help foster this sense, be it a history of 50 or 150 years.