Student - September 24, 2009

Beware of the eco-nerd

The green image that sticks to Wageningen University and Van Hall Larenstein can scare away potential students. Recruiters need to cast the net wider. No more photos of students with backpacks.

Open day for secondary school students at the Forum
An advert that could be heard this week on radio channels such as 3FM, Slam Fm and Radio 538 ran: 'Thinking of studying Communication? Orientate yourself properly. Each course has its own specialism. Take Wageningen University. There you use communication to address social problems. For example, how do you help the Netherlands to tackle the H1N1 flu effectively? You can do more than you think with communication.'
This commercial follows the latest insights from student recruitment and marketing officers Edwin Kelhout and Emiel van den Bosch of Wageningen University and Van Hall Larenstein. Over the past year, they have conducted interviews and panel discussions with ninety potential students from havo, vwo, mbo, hbo and Bachelor's courses at other universities in the Netherlands and abroad. These were the main findings.
1. Saving the world is not cool
'We tend to promote Wageningen UR in terms of quality of life, but secondary school students are not interested in that', says Edwin Kelhout.  They are looking for courses that match their interests and the subjects they are good at.

2. A good job, and a nice one
Young people want to know what kind of job they can get after their higher education course. They care more about the career prospects than the exact contents of the courses.

3. Fear of making the wrong choice
'Young people are scared of making the wrong choice. That makes them opt for a broad Bachelor's degree. We are extra scary because we are very small niche players on the education market', explains Kelhout. For this reason, information must be clear and reliable.

4. Stick to what you know
Van Hall Larenstein is not well known enough. One of the school students interviewed associated the name with a snobbish school in the smart Gooi area. The university is better known, but not all the possibilities it offers. If they think of Wageningen, young people think of plants and animals.

5. Green image is taboo
Up to now, both universities targeted their recruitment efforts at  'green people'. But those people know about us anyway. It's more important to target the fence-sitters. They think a particular course sounds interesting, but they are afraid that only eco-nerds go to Wageningen. Kelhout: 'The pictures of students with backpacks in our brochures don't do anything to dispel that image.'

6. Linking interests and courses
Once school students become aware of the overlap between degree courses and their interests, Wageningen or VHL become serious options for them. 'For example, we talked to a law student whose hobby is horse-riding. If she had made the connection between law and equestrian studies, she would certainly have been interested in animal sciences at VHL', says Emiel van den Bosch.

7. Research and the business world
Wageningen UR's strength lies in research and the links with the business world. This is another point on which both the university and VHL can score with potential students.
Recruitment campaigns
For the next two months, Wageningen will be on the air with radio commercials for environmental sciences, technology and nutrition courses. At the same time there will be email campaigns and banner ads placed on websites such as Hyves. VHL will launch a similar campaign from 5 October.
Major new student recruitment campaigns for both VHL and WU will start in September 2010.
 

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