Wanted: Southeast Asian students
The Agricultural University wants to attract more MSc students. As it is unlikely that money for international programmes will be forthcoming from the Dutch government, the WAU is looking to attract students who can pay for their own education
In WUB 27, Wim Heijman, course director of the MSc programme Agricultural Economics, was critical of the way in which the University wants to attract more international students, in particular the lack of a coordinated strategy. The Executive Board has commissioned Rob van Heusden to formulate a marketing plan to attract self-paying students from Southeast Asia
A few years ago the Minister for Overseas Development, Jan Pronk, indicated that he would prefer to see students taking MSc courses in their own countries. To do a PhD in the Netherlands would be conceivable. Doesn't that clash with the WAU policy of attracting MSc students? According to Chris de Nie of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minister is in favour of students making as much use as is possible of education offered in developing countries
Only in cases where expertise is not available should students come to the Netherlands. The Ministry certainly does not reject the plans of WAU. On the contrary, their efforts are praiseworthy, and the Ministry encourages similar initiatives from educational establishments.
The Ministry should come up with a new policy for international education next year. For the Agricultural University the main issue is the number of grants it makes available. Every year there are far more applicants for WAU courses than the number of grants awarded. According to Rob van Heusden from the Marketing Plan team, the number of grants is unlikely to increase. Even if we managed to negotiate an extra 10 grants it would be a big achievement, but a drop in the ocean as far as the number of MSc applicants goes. We have to look at the market for students who can pay for their study themselves. De Nie is also sombre on that point: We are quite happy to discuss our grants policy, but the budget available is unlikely to change.
According to Van Heusden, Wageningen's strength lies in its research orientation. WAU courses are known for their research element. Carrying out independent research and writing it up is stressed far more here than at English universities, for example. We should promote WAU as a research university. Many students from Hong Kong want to study abroad and could pay for themselves, but I don't think it's worth WAU putting much energy into attracting this group. Hong Kong is a trading nation, so most students are looking for a broad commercial training. Few are interested in complex agricultural problems. We could set up a general MBA course to attract self-paying students, but that's not where our expertise lies
We'd do better, for instance, to tap the Thai market. The number of students in Thailand who want to study abroad is probably less, but we have more to offer them
Another point worth stressing in publicity material is that most Dutch people speak good English: It's easy to get by in Wageningen without learning Dutch. Even in shops everyone speaks English. The Netherlands also has a reputation for being a relaxed and easygoing country. Some parents of prospective students might not see that as an advantage, but in general I think Holland has a good reputation abroad. I visited Nottingham to look at how they deal with international students there. About 1,800 students come each year from abroad to study there. One complaint I heard frequently was about the lack of freedom: they have to eat together in the canteen and it's quite difficult to leave the campus.
According to Van Heusden the most promising region for recruiting new students is Southeast Asia. There are sufficient numbers who can afford to pay for their own education in the area. Undergraduate education is also fairly widespread, but postgraduate education less so. Students are also keen to study abroad. We should also look at Australia. Although you can study to a high level within the country, there are quite a few third generation immigrants from the Netherlands who still have links with this country and would consider coming here to follow a course. Australia has also recently introduced a new form of study finance whereby graduates are required to pay an academic tax for a number of years after they have finished studying. Students studying abroad are exempted from this tax. I can imagine that students would reason: Here's a way I can get out of paying the tax so, yes, I'd like to study abroad.
Wim Heijman from Agricultural Economics and Rien Bor from the Information & Public Affairs Office are going to Hawaii this week for an education brokers' fair. Heijman believes that contact with these brokers is important, as many Asian parents make use of them when looking for a suitable study abroad for their children. Van Heusden is doubtful about the reliability of these brokers. I have spoken to some English universities. They tend to avoid brokers, who have other interests at heart than providing accurate information. On the other hand it's the universities who then have to deal with the problem of students who come with false expectations, whether they are about the study or the European weather.
Van Heusden expects to complete his market survey in November and report to the Board of Management. He will make recommendations on the recruitment of new students for three programmes