COMMUNICATING CHANGE AND OPPORTUNITY DURING THE PANDEMIC
Schools and universities in the Netherlands endured repeated closures during the covid pandemic. Marije Evers, communications advisor at Studiekeuze123, describes how the Utrecht-based agency teamed up with organisations to keep students informed on the support available to them.
It’s a known fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on secondary school students. More than ever before, feelings of anxiety and insecurity dominated their lives. These feelings were intensified by the information students received about their future, which was often unclear and unpredictable. When can we go back to school? Is that excursion still on? What if I get infected? How long will all of this go on? Students who were nearing graduation were confronted with additional tough questions about their post-secondary school education. How were they to choose a degree programme when all the universities and universities of applied sciences were closed?
Secondary schools as well as universities in the Netherlands went into lockdown several times in 2020 and 2021. This caused a lot of uncertainty and confusion amongst secondary school students. They had to choose a degree programme based solely on online information and were faced with many regulatory changes, communications that were difficult to understand, and a great deal of uncertainty around nationwide final exams. These factors only aggravated their feelings of anxiety and insecurity. Studiekeuze123 knew it was time to act.
Studiekeuze123 collects and distributes objective information about the degree programmes that Dutch universities and universities of applied sciences offer, with the aim of helping prospective students choose a course programme that’s right for them. When it became clear that COVID measures would be affecting students’ education choices for the foreseeable future, we knew we could help them by creating more clarity about their options. To do this, we tapped into our strength: making complex data and information understandable to a younger audience.
Open days organised by universities are an important part of choosing a degree programme. Prospective students get to experience first-hand what attending the institution is like. They can talk to faculty members and have a look around campus. In response to lockdowns, these open days were moved online. Communications around these measures were not always clear and frequently changed. We worked with universities to put together a clear and current overview of online open days.
In addition to creating clarity, we also wanted to offer prospective students a sense of security in other areas. The Dutch government was initiating a large number of measures and changes, for instance around prerequisites for enrolling in a degree programme and closing dates for enrolment. These changes were communicated in a way that was difficult to understand for the young audience they affected. We teamed up with the government and other organisations to improve the way the changes were talked about. We also made sure prospective students were aware of the changes to their situation, informing them through accessible content on our website and social media channels.
We’re proud of the impact our efforts have had. Our COVID-related articles were viewed 51,000 times; during lockdowns, our website was visited by 41% more people than before the pandemic. But what matters more than these figures is knowing that we’ve been able to take away some of the uncertainty prospective students were facing.