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Basel University launches marketing drive

Basel University lost 200 students in 2001. Basel University

The University of Basel, faced by dwindling student numbers, has launched a marketing offensive to attract new forces.

For the first time in the school’s 540-year history, its leaders felt compelled to open the doors to potential customers on Friday. The day was in fact an opportunity to display far and wide a new logo and show off the wares at Switzerland’s oldest seat of learning to hundreds of youngsters from all over the country.

Basel University, dropping from 7,800 students in 2000 to 7,600 in 2001, is not the only tertiary institution suffering from a regular loss in student numbers. Others, such as Geneva, have been battling the same trend.

But the open day represents a major change in the university’s thinking, a change it attributes to Switzerland’s low birth rate.

“This is a demographic problem,” said Bettina Volz, head of the new marketing section at Basel’s alma mater. “We have 10 per cent less students completing higher level studies, and that means 10 per cent les university students.”

Changing the curriculum

With fewer potential students, the competition is heating up to get backsides on seats. Basel hopes changes in the design of courses will attract mores bodies.

“We have done a lot of work on the curriculum,” Volz told swissinfo. “We have adapted it so Swiss students can study one or two semesters in Germany, Britain or France, and then finish here.”

One potential market, namely foreign students, is of little interest to Basel University.

“We are financed by the government, and the authorities will only pay for Swiss students, ” said Volz. “Foreign students add an interesting human element to university life, but unfortunately we are not paid for them.”

Bucking the trend

Basel’s explanation that student numbers are dwindling because birth rates are dropping isn’t accepted in all academic quarters. In Zurich for example, the local university has seen its numbers rebound after falling in the early nineties.

“I wouldn’t say because we have a low birth rate that we will low numbers of students in the next five to 10 years,” said Maximilian Jaeger, head of academic affairs at Zurich University. “Our prognosis is there will be an increase in two to five years, then a decrease in five to 10 years.”

Jaeger is more concerned about another threat to student numbers at traditional universities, the new technical colleges appearing all over Switzerland. “We now have these technical colleges alongside the universities, and we don’t know how many students will choose to follow courses in these new institutions,” he told swissinfo.

Zurich seems to be bucking the trend for time being, with new student numbers rising six per cent in 2001. Jaeger says this is because the city has more to offer than just a learning experience.

“Students have the possibility to study, but they can also work here,” he said. “There is also an excellent social cultural life here.”

Vanessa Mock and Scott Capper

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