Eline de Jong
Faye Pavisorn Tantikul
Eline de Jong
Faye Pavisorn Tantikul
The misconception of Honours’ college identity raises concerns for several reasons: a decrease in a relationship and social networking between Honors’ members and non-members, mental wellbeing of Honours’ students, and conflicting RUG mission and vision. However, there is no available research study in this regard. This project therefore conducted phenomenological research by using small-scale surveys and conducting interviews. After gathering data, we used thematic analysis for redesign implementation. The findings will be utilized for the data formulation and analysis for the final product of the research. At the end, we redesigned and proposed brand guidelines and communication strategies: Community Positioning, Vision Statement, Mission Statement, Corporate Culture, Key Performance Approach and Content Pillars.
The Honours College at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (RUG) is in an effort to provide programmes, focusing on self-talented and initiative skill development, apart from academic excellence. As of right now, the honours programme is geared to the development of leadership skills and has an emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach to scientific and social issues. Although the core content itself stresses on professional development rather than academic excellence, the identity and image of the Honours College among different groups is recognized as an ‘elitist’ sphere. The misconception of Honours’ college identity raises concerns for several reasons: a decrease in a relationship and social networking between Honors’ members and non-members, mental wellbeing of Honours’ students, and conflicting RUG mission and vision. Furthermore, if this problem is ongoing, it will impact the monetary problem since the government requires inclusion for subsidizing the program. In this regard, to mitigate the given problem, this project aims to examine RUG students’ perspectives on Honours College from different faculties and other Honors Colleges in order to further clarify the reasons behind. This project will be studied through different approaches for data triangulation: conducting a small survey and discourse analysis. After that, we use thematic analysis to formulate data and implement redesign. At the end of the project, the final product will provide a perspective on the programme from RUG students and a comparative analysis between honors’ colleges. Ultimately, we will propose a Rebuilding brand and communication strategy in which the administrations or marketing teams of Honours College can use to reduce the misconception of Honors College identity and to improve a better image.
Our Research Question:
How can Honours College’s identity and image be improved for a better social networking and relationship with other faculties and students of Rijksuniversiteit Groningen?
Intended for both staff and students and based on the research we conducted among both non-HC and HC students at University of Groningen as well as among Honours Colleges at other universities across the country (and our own HC):
Proposed Vision of the Honours College Identity and Values
After we created the purpose values based upon the findings from the data collection, we elaborated and designed a booklet for a brand guideline and communication strategies (see the attachment below). As of right now, the HC college uses offline-online marketing tools to promote the community, creating brand guidelines helps elaborate the purpose and value of a brand in several ways. Here are the major reasons. First – Consistency, Brand guidelines provide a set of rules and standards for the consistent use of the HC community statements and positioning. By ensuring consistency across all branding touchpoints, guidelines help to create a unified and coherent HC community identity. This consistency reinforces the brand’s purpose and value, as it becomes instantly recognizable and memorable to the target audience. Second, Tone of Voice: Brand guidelines also cover the brand’s tone of voice, which refers to the style, language, and communication style used in brand messaging. The tone of voice should reflect the brand’s purpose and values. By providing guidelines for the tone of voice, the community can consistently communicate their intended message and evoke the desired emotional response from their audience. By defining these contexts in the guidelines, the community can ensure that their contexts or identity aligns with their intended purpose and value. For example, a current HC might use academic achievement and excellence to convey its high-quality and exclusive nature. Third, Community positioning includes the positioning statement guidelines or narratives. These narratives help to articulate the brand’s purpose, values, and unique selling propositions. By establishing a compelling brand story, guidelines provide a framework for creating consistent and engaging narratives across different offline-online media channels. This storytelling approach enables brands to connect with their audience on a deeper level, effectively conveying their purpose and value. Fourth, testimonials from alumni extend beyond visual and verbal elements. By ensuring that these experiences align with the brand’s purpose and value, guidelines help create a cohesive and memorable brand experience. This consistency reinforces the brand’s intended value proposition and builds trust and loyalty among customers.
In summary, our brand guidelines help elaborate the purpose and value of a brand by establishing consistency, defining community positioning, guiding brand storytelling, and ensuring a cohesive community experience. By following these guidelines, brands can effectively communicate their purpose and value to their target audience, fostering recognition, trust, and comprehension. In doing so, this way helps minimize misconception of HC college.
Our Brand Guideline and Communication Strategy
Please click here to access our Brand Guideline and Communication Strategy for the Honours College
Considering the magnitude of attempting to re-brand the whole identity of the HC, or rather put into words exactly what it represents so that students can easily have a tangible (web-)space that they can refer to when looking into the HC, this means that the change cannot be implemented and realised immediately. Hence, based on our resources, research, and discussions, we found that a minimum viable product we could design that is a ‘good enough product to attract the first users’ would be the document with our proposed vision and the visual poster with key summary that could initiate the change process and keep it going. Although there might not be an immediate change, we believe that this starting process of raising awareness and educating more students about the vision of the HC at RUG represents an effective minimum viable product, based on the information and access we have.
By designing a document with our proposed vision of the Honours college identity as part of our MVP, we have not only created a space with more information that students interested in the initial poster can be redirected to, but we have also created a text that could be just as easily uploaded on the HC university website under some of the information sections. Similarly, the document itself could be put as a PDF on the website, talking explicitly about the specific identity and values of the HC as desired by students, since these are currently either hard to locate or not emphasised enough on the digital platform.
By designing such a poster as part of our MVP, we aim to have a product that is easily adaptable and able to be spread across numerous platforms. Aside from being able to print and spread it in a physical format across the university buildings, the poster design allows us to also post it on numerous social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, etc. where the university and the HC have active social media accounts that they use to spread similar information and raise awareness among students. The reason for choosing to focus on the owl at the centre and opt out of choosing a brand new object logo is largely based on our goal to be as practical (and viable) as possible and create a product that could actually be used. As the whole HC logo branding and merchandise (e.g. keychains, etc.) is rooted in the owl, we decided to base our conceptual visuals idea on and work around it. Additionally, such a poster with the brand logo of the HC (an owl) represents a practical product that could be easily posted on one of the HC pages on the university website to engage students and relay information in a faster and feasible manner.
To test the effectiveness of the campaign on raising awareness about the core values of the Honours college and what it stands for, one can re-do the student survey we already did during our research (elaborated on further below). By asking RUG students what they know about the Honours College and their thoughts about its image again after we have implemented the changes, one will be able to gauge if there has been a change in students’ attitudes and how effective the rebranding is. What we expect is that less students will focus on an elitist and ‘exclusivity’ image and instead have a perspective that reflects the key ideas that we put into words in our (re-)design. Alternatively, if the student responses do not reflect our desired change, such a survey would help us gain more insight into how to tailor our redesign and implement more changes to see what has worked well or not since we believe dispersing the mystery around the identity of the Honours College among students is a continuous long-lasting process. Naturally, student feedback is very important.
The document with guidelines for a proposed vision, values and community brand identity for the Honours College, as well as the proposed poster, are based on elaborative research into the current vision of the Honours College, student surveys to gather student perspectives and a comparative analysis between the Honours College of Groningen and other Honours Colleges in the Netherlands. In this section, the justification for our MVP is presented.
The strategic plan of the Honours College can be found on the website of the University of Groningen. In this document, the mission, vision, values and strategic goals are described. It is important to know what the current goals of the Honours college are, in order to know if those are suitable for the future, or need some adjustance. In advance, we would like to make two important side notes about finding out the goals for the Honours College:
1) One needs some time, patience and perseverance to find this strategic plan.
2) We were unable to find an up-to-date version of the plan, the latest version we found concerns the years 2017-2020.
In this section a short overview of the current mission, vision and values is presented. It is important to know the current vision and values of the HC, so we can compare them to preferred values of stakeholders, for example the HC committee, HC students, non-HC students and the government.
Two different questionnaires were spreaded to gain insights into the perspectives of students of University of Groningen (RUG) towards the Honours College of the RUG (HC). In this section, the most important results of both questionnaires are presented.
Current perspectives (questionnaire 1)
Current perspectives towards the Honours College were measured by asking questions where participants had to rate several statements on a 7 point likert scale. Furthermore, a few open ended questions were asked. The questionnaire was designed in Qualtrics and a convenience sample was used to find participants. There were a total of 56 participants, but 14 of them were excluded because they were not students of the RUG. Students were asked to fill out the questions: What first comes to mind while thinking about the Honours College?, Please rate the following statements on a scale from 1 to 7 regarding the Honours College of the RUG with five semantic differentials (unpleasant – pleasant, bad – good, useless – useful, uninteresting – interesting, difficult – easy) and some other rating questions regarding the possibility of everyone participating, the opportunity to develop yourself, and whether participating is good for your cv and your future career, whether the programme is about excellence and if the name ‘Honours College’ is suitable for the programme.
In Table 1, the most important results for the question What first comes to mind while thinking about the Honours College? are presented. A separation between the HC and non-HC students is made to investigate whether there are any differences between both groups.
Table 1: First thought that comes to mind while thinking about the Honours College
|I’m happy I’m doing it; inspiring; high workload; promised more than it offered; not too usefulLeadership; masterclasses; a lot of studying; time investment; late nights studying; extra program on top of your regular degree; pretentious; prestigious; honour (excellent) student|
|Expanding skills; interesting, additional learning activities; time investment; work; more work; more workload; extra classes on interdisciplinary topic; extracurriculars; extra exams; extra study things beside your study, extra credits; elite; talent; smart people; smart and hardworking people; smart dedicated students; you need to have high grades; High Grade Point Average; the tower of the academy building, which is very nice!|
By asking questions on a rating scale, the current perspectives towards the Honours College were measured. Table 2 presents the means and standard deviations of the rating scales. A boxplot of the results for the rating scales are included in Appendix A. The attitude towards the Honours College was measured by asking five rating questions on a 7-point scale by rating the semantics unpleasant – pleasant, bad – good, useless – useful, uninteresting – interesting, easy – difficult. The answers of the HC students, really experiencing the HC, are provided at the left, and the answers of non-HC students are provided on the right. In Table 2, it is remarkable that the HC students’ estimated score is above 4.28, which indicates a positive attitude towards the HC. They view the program as pleasant, good, useful and interesting. They also tend to find the HC program more easy than difficult. From the perspective of non-HC students, students who have not experienced the HC but have opinions from the outside, also show a positive attitude towards the HC. Their estimated scores are above 4, except their opinion towards the difficulty of the program. Their estimated score is 3.25 on a 7-point scale, indicating they see the HC more as a difficult than an easy program to follow. The non-HC students tend to score a bit less positively towards the HC than HC-students, but those results were not significant.
Table 2: Results of the rating scales measuring attitude towards the Honours College for HC students and non-HC students
In Table 3, the scores of the other ratings scales are presented. Figure 2 in Appendix A shows the boxplot belonging to those results. When measuring the opinions towards the statement Everyone can participate in the Honours College, students score around 3 or 3.9, so some of them are in disagreement with this statement. A possible explanation for this result is the current selection procedure of the HC, whereby students need to have high grades and a good motivation letter before they are invited to have an interview about their motivation for attending the HC. The HC does not have the capacity to place every student who applies. Students, both HC and non-HC, do rate the HC as positive for someone’s development. They also think that participating in the HC is good for your CV, and therefore helpful in your future career. When asking whether the HC is about excellence, students are in agreement when it is being said that the HC program is about excellence. Their means scores are higher than 4.
Table 3: Results rating scales about excellence, accessibility, CV and development
Values and purpose (questionnaire 2)
Perspectives towards goals and values of the future Honours College were gathered in an online survey among RUG students. The survey was designed in Qualtrics making use of open ended questions. A convenience sample was used. The survey was spread via social media and the researchers personal network. 21 participants took part. Students were asked to fill out four questions, as stated below:
Question 1 was asked to receive background information of the participants. It is of great interest to measure potential differences between the values and purpose suggestions of students who are really participating and experiencing the Honours College, and students who do not experience the Honours College themselves. An overview of the results for questions 2 What values should the Honours College represent? is presented in Table 4. It is visible that a lot of different types of values are suggested by the students. For the Honours College students, only one student suggested a value about excellence. The value ‘diverse’ was mentioned the most by HC students. This was followed by the terms ‘inclusivity’ and ‘education’. For the non HC students, the value ‘education’ was also mentioned several times. Non-HC students did also mention ‘respect’ as a desired value for the Honours College.
Table 4: Suggested values for the Honours College
|Honours College students|
|Excellence, inclusivity, diversity, challenging, out-of-the-box thinking, (hyper)interdisciplinarity, education, ambition, motivation, diversity, respect, leadership, productivity, professional, inclusion, education, community, growth, competence|
|Non-Honours College students|
|Open-mindedness, inclusivity, accessibility, excellence, duty, sustainability, equality, respect, transformational, hard work, dedication, educational, integrity, respect|
When considering the perspectives towards goals for the Honours College, it was observed that students see different goals for the Honours College as preferable. In Table 5, the results for the question What should the purpose of the Honours College be? are presented. HC and non-HC students both mention equipping students with extra knowledge and skills (that they do not learn in the regular study program) in fields they are interested in. Another important goal might be self-developing, which was also mentioned several times. Furthermore, ‘challenging’ was a purpose that occurred more than once. Only one suggested purpose was direct about excellence, other suggestions were more implicit talking about ‘giving exceptional students tools to change the world’ or ‘let people excel in their field’.
Table 5: Suggested purpose for the Honours College
|Honours College students|
Prepare students for life and work after university To teach motivated students about topics other than their main discipline; to promote personal and academic well being Equipping students with extra skills. We should have unique, skills-based classes, rather than just regular lectures. It should be about collaboration with existing leaders, rather than RUG teachers giving us childish assessments to do. The HC should be more than upper-class kids literally sitting in their ivory tower and feeling superior to others, while not actually adding anything to society
Excellence To help students excel in the fields they are interested in. To support students in becoming better leaders and to foster personal development by introducing students to different theories and by creating an environment of challenge and inspiration
|Non-Honours College students|
Connect people with different world-views, cultural and or educational background to exchange knowledge and ideas and deepen their insights in a diverse set of fields To give an opportunity to those looking to broaden their knowledge beyond what’s in their degree To develop students into outstanding members of society, and whatever community they are involved in Give exceptional students the tools to change the world to the better for everyone
Challenge the outperforming students to develop more skills and knowledge
The questionnaire ended with the additional question Do you want to share any ideas about the future of the HC?. A number of interesting ideas for the future of the Honours College are gathered. A summary of the ideas are shown in Table 6. Some suggestions are content related, others are on the organizational level.
Table 6: Summary of ideas for the Honours College
|Ideas for change|
|Some current masterclasses did not really add value, sometimes I felt I did not learn something that I couldn’t have taught myself. So more value should be added to the masterclasses|
|More courses on personal development (mental health and stress)|
|Bring people from start-ups, or leaders in certain fields|
|More academic content and not learning about ‘leadership’ by listening instead of really doing|
|Be better organized: different faculties should have the same deadlines and procedures for the Honours College|
|A list with participants of the Honours College so it is easier to contact people|
|Open application every year (not only in the first year of your Bachelors)|
With these two separate surveys, the perspectives of students towards the current and future HC were gathered and analyzed. This information was used as one of the starting points into designing the new document with guidelines and the poster.
The main research question of the project is to investigate how Honours Colleges in Utrecht and Leiden design future-proof curricula and identities. To answer this question, three sub-questions were formulated.
The Honours College in Utrecht has identified three main goals and objectives that guide its curriculum development: qualification, socialization, and subjectification. The qualification objective involves the acquisition of interdisciplinary skills and knowledge. The socialization objective is focused on building a culture and community. Finally, the subjectification objective emphasizes autonomy and personal development. In terms of vision of excellence, Honours College Utrecht does not have a specific vision but embraces other visions of excellence outside of academia. Additionally, they employ a pass and fail system instead of grades. The Honours College Utrecht embraces identity through a self-selection process that allows students to shape their curriculum according to their interests.
Similarly, the Honours College in Leiden aims to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum for all faculties that enables personal development within education. Their vision of excellence is centered on students with interdisciplinary knowledge and a strong inclination towards personal development. The Honours College in Leiden also employs a pass and fail system instead of grades. They embrace identity by motivating students and offering a stimulating curriculum.
The Honours College in Groningen aims to provide students with opportunities for personal development and to expand their academic horizons. The main goals of the college are to facilitate personal growth and offer a stimulating learning environment. In terms of excellence, the college seeks to attract motivated students who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and engage in personal development.
To create a distinctive identity, the Honours College in Groningen offers a motivated curriculum that allows students to self-select and shape their academic experiences. This approach ensures that the learning environment is inclusive, and students are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone. The college uses a grading system, but it is not exclusively based on pass and fail.
Overall, the Honours College in Groningen aims to foster a dynamic learning environment that empowers students to develop their personal and academic potential.
The main goals and objectives of the Honours Colleges in Utrecht, Leiden, and Groningen share a focus on personal development and providing stimulating learning environments. However, Utrecht emphasizes qualification, socialization, and subjectification, while Leiden prioritizes interdisciplinary education and personal development, and Groningen aims to expand academic horizons and offer personal development options.
The Vision of excellence of the Honours Colleges in Groningen, Leiden, and Utrecht are similar in that they all prioritize motivated students who are willing to step out of their comfort zones and engage in personal development. However, while Groningen and Utrecht do not have a specific vision of excellence, Leiden emphasizes interdisciplinary knowledge.
In terms of identity, Utrecht and Groningen both offer self-selection processes to shape academic experiences and create inclusive learning environments. Leiden motivates students and offers stimulating curricula. Utrecht and Leiden use a pass and fail system instead of grades, while Groningen uses a grading system but not exclusively based on pass and fail.
Certain aspects of the project are of more critical importance than others, because they can cause domino effects if they fail. In other words, the success of other components of the project depend upon the success of these components.
University of Groningen (2012). Our mission and vision. (2012, October 12). https://www.rug.nl/feb/organization/?lang=en
Figure 1: Boxplot of the rating scales measuring attitude towards the Honours College
Figure 2: Boxplot of rating scales about excellence, accessibility, CV and development