Science - December 15, 2005

The hunt for rich foreign students

The future of Wageningen University may depend to a large extent on successful recruitment of rich students from outside Europe. We are talking about the ones who can afford seven thousand euros a year in tuition fees: the ‘self-financing’ students. During a recent workshop on international recruitment it became clear that international education fairs are being scoured for potential students, and university representatives get 800 euros for each student they successfully persuade to come to Wageningen.

‘It doesn’t matter who’s paying them, as long as they are not applying for a grant,’ said Rien Bor of the Department of Education. His working group on Information and Recruitment spoke on 7 December to Wageningen UR employees on recruiting self-financing foreign students.

‘The declining numbers of MSc students this year are the result of fewer Dutch students transferring from professional education,’ declared Bor. ‘The number of grants for international students is not increasing much so if we want to maintain our student numbers we will have to focus on the self-financing international student. That means doing good international market research and coming up with new recruitment ideas.’

The room where Bor spoke was packed with members of staff. Among the speakers were the heads of student recruitment at three other international educational institutions in the Netherlands: the CHN University in Leeuwaarden, the Hanze University Groningen and Delft University of Technology. They described the opportunities available, mistakes made and what they regard as effective ways to recruit self-financers at the international education markets in places like Mumbai and Jakarta.

The key is recruiting rich students from outside Europe, students who can afford seven thousand euros a year in tuition fees. Up to now Bor’s 34 Wageningen University representatives have recruited most of these. The representatives are international alumni working in 24 countries. For each self-financer recruited, Bor pays the representative eight hundred euros, with an extra bonus if the score is more than ten students. Over half of the foreign MSc students are acquired in this way.

But the international education market is a relatively new world that is changing quickly and still is largely uncharted territory. ‘Where we were pioneers a decade ago, cautiously visiting a small fair in Jakarta, it is no longer only Europe and the US that are combing the international fairs for self-financers,’ said Jon van Langenveld from Delft University of Technology. ‘Countries like China are now also promoting themselves on the international market.’

According to Bor, a clear image and the possibility to bargain are crucial factors. ‘We haven’t started bargaining yet. If a student with a chauffeur-driven car visits us at a fair he is told that tuition fees have a fixed price of seven thousand euros, and then we lose that student. If he goes to the Leiden stand and is told that fees are thirteen thousand euros with a ‘personal’ reduction of six thousand euros, Leiden will win that student,’ according to Bor.

‘Many educational establishments have deals with sharp local agents,’ added Simon van de Wal from Hanze University. ‘But the problem there is their reliability. Many of these are cowboys who charge the students astronomic sums and give them false information. In the news programme Netwerk last Sunday there was a report on eighty Nepalese students at the Dutch Delta University in Deventer who had been lured to the Netherlands under false pretences by one of these cowboy-agencies, and ended up with illegal status.’

‘In the world of recruitment it is the alumni network and personal contacts that are vital,’ according to Van Langenveld. ‘Cultural differences and promoting an unintentional political image of your institute are pitfalls. Personal contacts are extremely important, people would far rather be associated with you than with your institute.’ He also thinks that knowing a country well is the only way to gain an understanding of the market. ‘Where the money is and where recruitment is likely to be successful is often difficult to predict and depends on many factors. For example, the market in Indonesia – it had seemed so strong and suddenly caved in, partly due to the weak dollar,’ thinks Van Langenveld. ‘Many students finance their study with corruption money, usually in dollars.’ / MV

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