Governments are increasingly turning to ‘branding’ their higher education sector in order to promote them as globally competitive knowledge services sectors, and to secure a competitive advantage on the basis of imagined lifestyles, access of cultural experiences, a quality education, and so on. New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, to name just a few countries, have all been busy identifying and packaging the unique image they want to project in order to generate ‘brand value’.
The Netherlands is no exception. It is actively promoting itself as a major European destination, with offices in Beijing, Taipei, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Mexico City. Offices in Bangkok and Moscow are due to open in 2008. According to the Institute of International Education’s Atlas of Student Mobility, the Netherlands currently has around 2% of the world market of international students, with some 42,000 students enrolled in higher education programs in the Netherlands.
‘Study in Holland’ was launched in January of this year as the official brand for the Netherlands. The brand can be used by higher education institutions who are accredited by the Netherlands-Flemish Accreditation Organization (NVAO). They must also have signed up to the Code of Conduct, which is a set of minimum standards for the teaching and care provided to international students in the Netherlands.
Aside from a large number of programs (especially graduate) where teaching is in English, an important element of the Dutch brand not explicitly featured is the relatively low student fee which international students are charged (in comparison to the USA, Australia and UK). Low fees can be a comparative advantage. However, in the case of the Netherlands, the low fee is also a signal of a particular social welfare regime and social ethic. It conjures up European values, a European social model, and so on which is part of its ‘cosmopolitan’ attraction.
However, according to a Nuffic Report issued on the 4th March this year, this is about to change in the 2008-9 academic year. Non European Economic Area (EEA) students will face a doubling of fees for professional programs in Dutch universities. This means that fees that sit currently at around 3,500 euro are estimated to almost double taking them to around 7,000 euro (US $11,000). Fee hikes run the danger of tarnishing this civilized cosmopolitan image.
What will be interesting in 2008-9 is to see how this move, to dramatically increase fees for international students, impacts on brand image and brand managing. After all, we can package a brand and project it, however the ‘consumers’ also have their own often more pragmatic reasons for choosing one place over another. Playing around with the actual product, such as the cost of fees and so on, has major implications for the take up of the brand and must surely create a headache for brand managers.
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