‘Branding’ global higher education services in the Netherlands

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.

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‘Study in Holland’ was launched in January of this year as the official brand for the Netherlands. According to Nuffic, the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education,

The logo combines traditional symbols of Holland – the tulip and the windmill – with symbols for higher education and research. The tagline is ‘Study in Holland: open to international minds’. The brand was developed by Fabrique Communication & Design, and international students played an important role in selecting the final design.

Nuffic also notes that:

Research has shown that international students choose the Netherlands because of the academic quality and the cosmopolitan atmosphere. For their part, Dutch higher education institutions consider the international staff and student populations an important part of their quality assurance policy.

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.

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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 and vocational programs in Dutch universities presenting the further penetration of fee increases in university programs. 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). Universities like the University of Amsterdam had already moved to increase fees in academic programs over a year ago taking them well into the 9,000 euro mark.

What will be interesting in 2008-9 is to see how these moves impact 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 course and 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.

Susan Robertson

‘Malaysia Education’: strategic branding leads to growth in international student numbers 2006-8?

Several months back in our round-up of the global higher education student mobility market, we reported that Malaysia might be viewed as an emerging contender with 2% of the world market in 2006 (this was using the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education figures which reports only on the higher education sector).

Last week, Malaysia’s leading newspaper The Star reported that figures had increased between 2006 and 2008 by 30%, bringing the overall numbers of international students in Malaysian international schools and higher education institutions to 65,000. According to the following calculations by industry analyst (see pamjitsingh.ppt) the Malaysian government is well on target to realise its 2010 goal of 100,000 international students.

Taking into account the forecast in world demand by 2010, the Malaysian government estimates that their market share would need to grow from its current world share of international students (schools and higher education) of 3.9% in 2004 to 6.6% in 2010. In comparison to the global average annual growth rate of international students which is around 7.4% p.a, the Malaysian target growth rate would need to be in the order of 24.0% per annum to achieve the 2010 target.

In order to realize this goal, a new Higher Education Ministry Marketing and International Education Division was created.

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    Dr Mohamed Nasser Mohamed Noor took on the post of Division Director in January 2006. According to Dr. Nasser, the success of this rapid increase can be attributed to Malaysia’s ‘branding’ of its education sector – ‘Malaysia Education’. It would seem that Malaysia is not far off course to realize their 2010 target if they maintain their current progress of 30% increase over two years (2006-2008).

    Branding has emerged as an important strategy for governments seeking to strategically develop their higher education markets. Nick Lewis’s entry on Brand New Zealand carried on GlobalHigherEd late last year illustrates how cultural re/sources, such as ‘clean’, ‘safe’, ‘green’ New Zealand, are being drawn upon to realise value and to reposition New Zealand in a highly competitive market.

    Similarly Europe (see this report destination-europe.pdf) has been casting around for an identifiable ‘brand’ to market itself as a significant player with an identifiable ‘product’ in the global higher education market. This means finding a combination of distinctive elements that enable the country or region to position themselves in relation to the competition.

    The ‘Malaysian Education’ brand draws on deep cultural, religious and political resonances to promote its product – one that emphasizes lifestyle, culture and quality of education. This includes the value to be gained from its unique multicultural population of Malay, Indian and Chinese; its Islamic religion; and its experience of colonialism. Despite the contradictions inherent in this new form of neo-colonialism, these cultural values and symbols are being (effectively?) mobilized to open up the African, Arab, Chinese and Indonesian markets.

    Malaysia’s story demonstrates the high level of fluidity in globalising the higher education market. It requires players to be highly competitive, constantly utilize intelligence, be attentive to strategies as to how to open new markets, and have a way of representing the sector as an attractive and unique brand.

    Will Malaysia leave behind its ’emerging contender’ crown and don the mantle of a major player in the region? Much depends clearly on what the other players in the region do – Singapore, China and Australia. Let’s see what 2010 reveals.

    Susan Robertson