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Leaving the cocoon: university course design and delivery vis-a-vis competitive strategy

Anthony Morven Gould (Relations industrielles, Laval University, Quebec, Canada)
Thomas Michael Power (Associate Professor, Université Laval, Québec, Canada)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 9 February 2015




This article aims to ask how Michael Porter’s seminal notions of generic competitive strategy may be applied to an emerging university industry where course design and delivery is conceived of as able to be undertaken using distinctive modes.


The study is principally a polemic piece. However, its method is to view course delivery modes as generic strategies and overlay these on Porter’s strategy grid. Each mode of course delivery is viewed as a strategy because it is associated with a rationale that can be reconciled with the axes of advantage that Porter has defined. These axes are “kind of benefit” and “target market”.


The study finds four generic methods of tertiary course delivery. These can be placed – largely without ambiguity – on Porter’s grid.

Research limitations/implications

Further research may recreate findings using methods that draw on more data; possibly, survey evidence or multiple interviews, etc.

Practical implications

The work has implications for university administrators and strategic planners within the tertiary sector. It connects sector-specific planning with theory and research about Porter’s generic strategies.

Social implications

The article has public policy implications. It offers a portrait of how public-sector education is likely to look in a deregulated context. It offers implicit advice of securing competitive advantage for individual institutions.


The article undertakes an exercise that has not been done before. The theory used for interpretation purposes is likely to be unfamiliar to those interested in planning within the tertiary sector (particularly, the public sector), although care is taken to justify new application of the theory.



Gould, A.M. and Power, T.M. (2015), "Leaving the cocoon: university course design and delivery vis-a-vis competitive strategy", On the Horizon, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 58-68.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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