Study-abroad students want more responsive staff

Study-abroad students in the Netherlands have many different reasons for deciding to enrol in a foreign university, but they are agreed on one thing – they want a better service from the lecturers teaching them.

That was clear from an interactive student panel titled ‘The voice of Generation Z’ at the end of the two-day Studyportals Academy in Amsterdam last week.

The panel of five students from Eastern Europe studying on full-time undergraduate degree courses taught in English at Dutch universities was asked by Edwin van Rest, the Studyportals CEO, what a new university would be like if they could build one from scratch.

Their responses were not about better teaching facilities or shiny new sports halls. Instead the post-millennials wanted more responsive and better-informed staff with an understanding of the worries and concerns of international students.

Staff not aware of needs of international students

Simona Rimkuté from Lithuania, studying online culture at Tilburg University, said: “The worst problem for me is when I go to staff about getting a study grant or insurance and they are not aware of the kind of information international students need. I would have a good look at the staff they employ.”

She originally investigated studying in Denmark, but was put off when she found out about the difficulties in finding good accommodation.

Another student from Bulgaria said she found her teachers struggling to teach a class with students having different levels of knowledge about the subject. This was backed up by Gabriele van Otterlo, who is half-Dutch and half Lithuanian, and in the first year of studying applied animal sciences at Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences at Velp.

She said: “The teachers can’t balance out the level of students, some with no previous knowledge of the subject and some with a background in the specific area.”

Lower fees proved attractive

She picked the Netherlands because of the course and lower tuition fees and because she wanted to learn Dutch, but she missed the welcome week because she was working and struggled to integrate as most of the students had formed tight groups of friends by the time she started the course.

“I found myself covered in paperwork when I arrived and I would streamline that if I was starting a new university from scratch,” she said.

Morta Rimkuté, studying international relations at Leiden University, said she would build more student housing if she was building a new university to attract more international students. “It was very hard for me to find some accommodation in The Hague.”

Dmitrii Orlov, from Moscow, originally looked at Dublin to study computer science, but realised it was going to be too expensive for him.

He is now at Fontys University of Applied Sciences combining undergraduate studies with a fast-track pre-masters programme and plans to stay in Holland to study computer science and engineering at postgraduate level at Eindhoven University of Technology. He said the big problem on international programmes was the clustering of different nationalities who tended to stick together – whether they were Dutch, Romanian, Bulgarian or from wherever. “This makes it tough for those of us who are the only student from their country on the course.”

As for the reasons for studying abroad, the Generation Z panel agreed the main attractions were getting out of their comfort zones and challenging themselves and the Netherlands offered a good deal on cost of living and fees.

Orlov attended international student fairs in Moscow before enrolling in the Netherlands and said: “I wanted to find the right programme in computer science and the fairs let me see how approachable the professors were. It was hard to find details of the whole curriculum for different courses on university websites.”

WhatsApp the way to communicate

As for how universities should be communicating with Generation Z students, another session at the Studyportals Academy in Amsterdam heard Elias Faethe, a freelance consultant for marketing higher education institutions, suggest WhatsApp was the way forward.

Faethe said: “It offers a low effort way for the whole marketing funnel in the digital age, with over 1.3 billion users worldwide and enables universities to have a one-to-one communication channel to students for free and without any complex API [application programming interface] connections.

“The big challenge for universities in attracting students is not getting leads, but in following them up and WhatsApp is the tool that can do that with much less effort and can help universities increase the conversion rate.”

He told University World News: “Those universities that decide to use WhatsApp will put themselves several years ahead of the crowd, but my fear is that many will miss the boat as they did with Facebook when it really took off eight years ago.”

He admitted that the new WhatsApp business app did present challenges, such as the need to have a separate individual phone number and because many features were only available on a phone and not on the web because of the encrypted messaging system.

But he believed WhatsApp would avoid many of the mistakes Facebook has been making and avoid becoming too commercial.

One problem highlighted by delegates attending the session was that students might be put off if the marketing and recruiting department used WhatsApp to talk to potential students and then the faculties insisted on communicating with applicants through email.

But in the session with the Generation Z students, Gabriele van Otterlo, the half-Dutch and half Lithuanian student, said: “Email is okay when communications with a university get more formal. I prefer it for formal things [rather] than Facebook.”