Selling TU Delft to foreigners

Delta nr 7, March 2005

With about one in every ten TU students a foreigner, it's hard to imagine that the TU started it's first English-language MSc programs in 1997 with just 13 foreign students enrolled. TU Delft's come a long way since then, mainly due to 'knowledge export', or international marketing.

"I prefer not to use the term marketing," says Jon van Langeveld, TU's senior knowledge export coordinator. “Marketing implies that what I do is simply selling our university, but it's much more of a mutually beneficial process. Otherwise it just won't work."

Van Langeveld has been involved in recruiting international students from the very beginning, nine years ago when the TU first started making plans for English-language MSc programs. "We didn't have any experience whatsoever in attracting foreign students," he says. Because of its historical ties with Holland, Indonesia was the first country Langeveld focused on. Together with the universities of Groningen and Leiden, he organized 'The Dutch Experience', a successful Dutch higher education conference, held in Indonesia. In 1997, 12 Indonesians and a Filipino student enrolled at TU Delft for the inaugural English-language MSc programs. The following years saw a quick rise in numbers of international students.


Soon after the TU started to actively attract foreign students, Nuffic, the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education, did the same. This non-profit organization promotes Dutch higher education the world over and helps Dutch universities compete globally. The TU's international marketing policy is largely designed to complement Nuffic's work.

In 2003, the TU welcomed 280 new foreign MSc students from over 80 different countries. With 71 percent of them paying their own fees, rather than receiving scholarships, foreign students have become steady sources of income for TU Delft. But attracting international students is also important, because now that all Dutch universities use the Bachelor/Master (BAMA) system, it's expected that increasing numbers of Dutch students will leave the TU after completing the Bachelor's phase. And having international students around also helps students and staff develop intercultural skills, which gives TU students a head-start in the international job market.

Van Langeveld travels the world all year round promoting TU Delft. He regularly represents Delft at international education fairs and also maintains close contacts with staff and students from many foreign universities, as well as with representatives of Chambers of Commerce, Ministries of Education, multinational companies, etc, as they usually have influential personal networks. "Personal contact's essential in this business."

Van Langeveld also keeps a close watch on the quality of current collaborations and future opportunities through partnerships with corporations and other universities. "Companies sometimes offer their staff so-called 'upgradings', which means staff members with a BSc can get their Master's degree. We try to persuade them to send their staff here." One example of collaboration between Delft and foreign universities is the 'three-plus-two program', which allows students from universities with four-year BSc programs to combine a three-year Bachelor's at their home university with a two-year MSc program at the TU, thus saving themselves a year.

When Van Langeveld is targeting new countries, he, for instance, looks for quality of education, current student mobility and whether students can afford to study abroad. Apart from market research done by Nuffic, the TU does its own research, because sometimes a country is of no interest to Holland as a whole but still offers great opportunities for TU Delft. "Vietnam is such a country," he says. "It's economy, gross national product and spending power are all growing, and its infrastructure needs improving, which makes it an interesting country for us because we can educate Vietnamese students on that."

Niche marketing

Besides marketing on a central, TU-wide level, most faculties have their own international marketing officer. Bryony Blinman, International Admissions Officer at the Applied Sciences Faculty, is successfully attracting foreign Master's students. "In 1997, we had four Indonesian MSc students; this year we had 36 new students from 22 different countries," Blinman says. The faculty mainly advertises on the web, but also attends education fairs and gives potential students all the help and attention they need. Blinman: "Few students only apply to one university, and the attention they get during the application period can certainly affect their final choice." Blinman recently started with extremely targeted printed marketing aimed at UK postgraduate students. "The UK is close, the level of education is very high and Great Britain itself attracts lots of international students who are mobile and usually leave their UK university speaking good English." To make sure foreign students enjoy their time in Delft, the faculty organizes special events and social evenings. "They're our best ambassadors," Blinman says. "Word of mouth promotion is still the best way to attract students."

Mascha Toppenberg, international MSc coordinator at Mechanical Engineering and Marine Technology, shares this vision. She coordinates lunch meetings for international students every fortnight and organizes special events like Christmas parties. Furthermore, Toppenberg is planning to send TU promotional material to foreign universities through current MSc and PhD students. The faculty mainly uses web advertising for Materials Science, which doesn't offer a BSc program in Delft, but will soon do the same for all MSc programs. Like Blinman, she advertises on sites like, which give potential students information on which universities offer their chosen programs. The ads usually have an email address students can write to for information. "I reply to every email and once students are interested, I try to build good personal relationships with them, so there's a good chance they'll choose us." Toppenberg has lots of ideas on how to increase the number of incoming international students: "In future, we'd like to collaborate with companies and institutions and work on ways to create scholarships."

The faculty of Aerospace Engineering requires a somewhat different approach. "That's because our Bachelor's program is in English too," says Yiong van Walsum, manager of international relations and marketing. "And the international market for MSc programs in aerospace engineering is highly competitive, so international marketing on its own simply isn't enough to attract foreign MSc students. Raising the faculty's profile through international cooperation is essential, as is improving the TU's internal procedures." To attract foreign BSc students, Van Walsum targets international and British schools worldwide, but also Belgian and German students. She started marketing in Germany earlier this year and works closely with a German education consultancy bureau. Advertising on German websites and organizing presentations in German schools by groups of German TU students are also part of the strategy. "Our Belgian students have been doing school presentations in Belgium successfully for several years now," Van Walsum says. "Belgium and Germany are definitely two of our niche markets."

Currently, the TU's main focus area is Asia, but that will slowly shift towards the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Latin and South America. The average time it takes to build a reputation abroad is around three years, so it may be a while yet before Latino's outnumber Asians at the TU.


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