Member stories: developing a study choice platform for international students

Member stories: developing a study choice platform for international students

Next up in our series is the inspiring story of EAIE member, Edwin van Rest, Vice-Chair of the Expert Community Marketing and Recruitment and one of the winners of the 2013 Rising Star award. Read about Edwin’s motivation for working in the international higher education field, and the story of how he identified a lack of transparency in student study opportunities and successfully developed a platform to fill the gap.


What is your role at your institution?

I am co-founder and CEO of StudyPortals, the international study choice platform. Our ultimate ambition is to make study choice transparent, worldwide. I am responsible for leading the organisation on the optimal path to make this a reality.

Why did you decide to start working in the field of international higher education?

I was so fortunate to spend one year of my Master’s studying in Japan, as well as two internships for the Olympic Games in Athens and Turin. I am grateful for these experiences as they were where I was struck by the value of an international study experience, both for academic and personal growth, as well as for society.

When I came back from Japan I was full of great stories and many of my friends said to me, “I wish that I had known about those opportunities”. At the same time, the Bachelor/Master (Bologna) system was introduced in continental Europe, resulting in a new decision for students: if and where to complete a master’s programme. Tens of thousands of new Master’s programmes started being offered all over Europe. We were frustrated as there was no way to find and compare all those programmes.

At the same time, I was working at my University’s international office in marketing to international students, just as tuition fees were increased eightfold for non-EU students. I found that we had to use expensive and labour-intensive marketing tools (mainly print and student fairs), of which the effects were either low and/or difficult to measure.

Some friends and I were active in an international student association’s committee and expected the EU or a big publishing company to fill this gap, but nothing happened. So we decided to fill it ourselves and try to solve our own problem: a short time later was born – our first and still our biggest site.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

It’s gratifying to be able to contribute to such a valuable experience for students and society: study abroad. I also enjoy showing students the possibility of crossing borders and helping them to make better decisions. Our first core value at StudyPortals is that we want to make our world a little bit better, every day. If we reflect on what drives our organisation deep down, it is this objective to create a sustainable contribution to studying internationally.

Also I find it great to see our team and the individuals within it grow. Many of us started as students or young graduates and are now doing international business, some of them managing their own teams.

In the EAIE context, I get a lot of satisfaction by being able to contribute to the professionalisation of our sector. Many think that higher education is traditional and slow moving, but I believe the opposite is true. If you consider the number of people involved and the impact on them, and you consider changes like Bologna (fees and funding developments and the supporting role of technology), movement is huge. There are so many opportunities around and I get energy from and learn from spreading and improving ideas, experience and skills.

What words of wisdom do you have for those starting in the higher education field?

  1. Congratulations! You chose a great sector to work in! The deeper you dive in, the more intense your learning and your joy will be.
  2. Continuously try to remember the importance of our work. Our work has a key impact on wealth and social integration at large and on the life satisfaction and even life expectancy of the individuals we serve. For many children, education is their best chance to a better life for their generation. Realising our cause drives us through the most challenging situations.
  3. Keep dreaming: Despite the absence of financial rewards and the many obstacles for innovation, keep devoting part of your time for improvement initiatives; be persistent and you will get there.
  4. Be open. Despite increasing competition we should work together to learn from each other and achieve best results. There is literally still a whole world of opportunity and ultimately we are striving towards a higher goal than the actual market share of our university, country or company.