Wetenschap - 11 april 1996

Fishing for students in Southeast Asia

Fishing for students in Southeast Asia

The overall number of students enroling at Dutch universities and institutes for higher education is decreasing. Demographic projections indicate that this trend will continue. In order to make up for the shortage of students, educational institutions should recruit well-to-do students from abroad, more specifically from Southeast Asia. It might be a nice thought, but perhaps not such a good idea, says Professor D.J. Wolfson, member of the board of Nuffic, the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education.


Students from South East Asia may be a potentially attractive source of new students since the booming economies in the region increasingly demand highly-skilled labour, and the educational infrastructure there cannot keep up with the rapidly increasing demand. By the year 2020 there will be 2.5 million students worldwide seeking to study abroad. Last Wednesday March 27, the editors of Transfer, a magazine on international cooperation in education, organised a conference together with Nuffic entitled Fishing in the same pond. The aim was to discuss the possibilities of recruiting students from Southeast Asia with experts from Australia, Canada and Germany.

Mr. F.J.H. Mertens, deputy Secretary-General of the Ministry of Education, summarises the advantages of recruiting wealthier foreign students: They are attractive for the Dutch economy. They spend money during their stay here, they guarantee the continuity of the education institutions and, in the course of their careers, they might become valuable business contacts. It is not shameful to admit that the number of students is important. Besides, attracting money is a legitimate argument." However, it is up to the institutions themselves to decide how they go about their business. Mertens concludes: Financial support from the government for good ideas from educational institutions is really a thing of the past."

Niches

Wolfson warns against too much optimism. He believes that good ideas usually originate from the demand side: Detailed market research is needed before institutes start rushing into the Southeast Asian market." The Netherlands should only advertise the cream of the crop as far as courses and study programmes are concerned. The focus should be on finding niches. Wolfson stresses that the Netherlands excels both professionally and educationally in the fields of food processing, aerospace, civil engineering and last but not least culture. He jokes, The number of French tourists visiting art exhibitions, like the Vermeer exhibition, is still much larger than the amount of French entering coffee shops to buy drugs."

During the conference it emerged that the most effective ways of recruiting foreign students are through contacts between institutions and direct relations between scientific staff. Advertising in international media is regarded as a waste of money. Furthermore, the quality of services offered to incoming students seems to be an important criterion for students in their choice of institution. Accessibility can be improved by providing one single counter where newcomers can register for the study, acquire the necessary residence permits and obtain appropriate housing.

The United Kingdom offers the best student services and has an obvious language advantage. Germany attracts foreign students, as no tuition fees are charged. Australia has a geographical advantage in relation to Southeast Asia, and Canadian English apparently has an attractive accent. What effort is WAU making to recruit foreign students?

In Wageningen the Dean's Office fulfils the function of one single counter. Services and facilities are evaluated by MSc students as excellent. Furthermore, Mertens referred to food processing and production at WAU as one of the crown jewels of Dutch science.

Scholarships

According to Mertens Wageningen does not really need a business card, since it is well known all around the world. Mr H.W.J. Van den Broek, coordinator of the biotechnology MSc programme, agrees that WAU does not really need to advertise or recruit students. The availability of scholarships is the limiting factor: Last year we approached the leading biotechnology companies in the Netherlands, with the request to provide scholarships, unfortunately without success." Advertising WAU abroad has hitherto been carried out on an ad hoc basis by individual members of staff, the Office for Foreign Relations and the Dean's Office. Van den Broek explains that the Board is now conferring with the latter two and the MSc programme directors in an attempt to coordinate these different efforts.

The Dean's Office for Foreign students has recently acquired an official position with regard to marketing strategies and acquisition for international education. Mrs W. Knuiman-Hijl, public relations officer for the Dean's Office: It is surprising, however, how many WAU staff are unaware of the existence of the MSc programmes." Knuiman-Hijl's work involves establishing communication procedures between representatives of the different sectors within WAU. She intends to talk to university employees who travel abroad for work, and stress the importance of promoting WAU in speech and in print. Five flyers, with the slogan plant a BSc - harvest an MSc have been designed. Each flyer contains specific information on one of the MSc programmes or one of the specialisations.

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