Vision and mission statements are declarations that tell us about an organisation’s purpose. They describe a better future the organisation is working towards, and how it will work to bring it about. Generally, the former is defined as vision and the latter as mission, though in the real world, there’s plenty of overlap between the two

This is particularly the case with universities, where by and large, the two are rolled into one rambling (commonly generic) statement, and served up with a collection of values – often in some dusty, neglected corner of their websites.

In a crowded and competitive marketplace, however, it might be worth giving vision and mission statements a little more thought. Done well, they can serve as a crystallisation of what an institution stands for; the crowning glory of a comprehensive branding strategy. This statement should be the ultimate end which all the diverse ends that make up a university serve.

Good mission and vision statements will give staff and students alike something to rally around, to be inspired by. They will help external stakeholders to understand a university’s values and raison d’être. And they will guide management to make the right decisions regarding their institution’s direction of travel.

Vision and mission doesn’t come off the shelf

We keep saying things like ‘done well’ and ‘good mission statements’.  Mission and vision statements can easily become generic marketing spiel if drawn up without love. They must be authentic, built upon a solid foundation of lived values. All of the diverse endeavour that takes place at an institution must be ultimately directed at achieving these goals, ascribing to the values implicit or made explicit within them.

There’s merit in being defined by a clear mission and vision. Studies show that mission-driven businesses are more likely to command employee loyalty, engender trust in leadership (with a concomitant improvement in performance), and also foster brand loyaltyfrom consumers. While universities differ from commercial organisations, such results are clearly also laudable in the higher education sector.

We might look to Birkbeck’s front-and-centre commitment to providing education to non-traditional students; INSEAD’s emphasis of its international approach and the importance of responsible leadership; or Vassar’sdeeply-held belief that liberal arts can enrich our lives, if we were looking for some positive examples of lived mission statements.

Here’s some good further reading on this topic. And another interesting study on university mission statements.

Looking to clarify your vision and mission? Make it your mission to get in touch