In 1986, the then ten-year-old Rijksuniversiteit Limburg (RL), today called Maastricht University, launched a large-scale, nationwide promotional campaign to increase the RL’s ‘brand’ recognition and to attract more students. This campaign, which came at an annual expense of 300.000 guilders, was thought up by the then rector magnificus Vic Bonke, who had a penchant for marketing. Bonke’s ‘big dream’ was in fact to work towards an autonomous, entrepreneurial, privatised university. The RL was hard-pressed to keep growing during the economic crisis of the 1980s, the infamous episode of so-called ‘Selective Shrinkage and Growth’. In this effort, the university was backed by the 1987 Deetman resolution, which stipulated that the RL should have 6000 students in 1990 if it was to justify its prolonged existence.
The campaign included page-size advertisements in newspapers and specially designed posters used at information meetings throughout the Netherlands. At the time, the university offered programmes in medicine, health sciences, law and economics. The RL was the first Dutch university to initiate such promotional campaigns. It had hired an Amsterdam advertising firm, which came up with slogans like: ‘Made in Maastricht’, ‘Learned in Maastricht’ and ‘In Maastricht you learn to leave your limits behind’. The RL sought to present itself as a young, somewhat ‘gutsy’ university with an identity of its own – as a university distinguishing itself through a ‘new’ practice-oriented educational system: problem-based learning, relying on small-sized tutorial groups. Particularly the programme in economics managed to attract students through these campaigns, not only from the Netherlands but also from Belgium and Germany.
Yet the campaigns also met with resistance within the Dutch academic world from those who viewed the effort to be in poor taste or not very ‘academic’. The minister of Education and Sciences, Wim Deetman, had doubts about it as well. Regardless, the campaigns proved highly successful. If in the academic year 1986-1987 over 42% of the students came from outside of Limburg, by 1988 this figure had gone up to over 76% already. The total student population went up from some 3600 in 1986 to 6000 in the early 1990s, implying that the original goal was achieved indeed. By that time, the RL discontinued the campaign in order to prevent its rapid growth from going at the expense of the overall quality of teaching. Moreover, in 1991 Job Cohen, a member of the Dutch labour party (PvdA), became the new rector magnificus, and he had little interest in this kind of marketing of the university.