Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and assumptions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of The Graduate Press Editorial Board. Our mission is to provide a neutral platform for the student body to be able to engage in open dialogue on complex issues.
By Krista Maria Ethel Tingbrand
When I joined The Graduate Institute in September 2021, I joined it with the conviction that it was different from other institutions in more than just academics. Professional exposure, efficient student services, understanding and supportive financial mechanisms, great teaching, good senior management etc. Sure, the Student Services department is quite efficient, professional exposure is great, support mechanisms exist, and some financial help is available. Though initially I was mildly disappointed with certain services, I blamed it on the financial constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and on the general inefficiencies found in universities across the world. While I agreed that these constraints do not excuse the inability to meet the students’ needs in areas such as financial aid, living support, and health services, to a certain extent, I could make up excuses in my mind as to why it was not up to the standard I envisioned. However, the email explaining the Institute’s rebranding opened a new perspective on what really appears to be important to this institution of higher education.
On 18 November 2021, all students received an email from the Director on the “evolution of the name and logo of the Institute”. I opened it with curiosity – what is this supposed to mean? Is the Institute changing its name completely? Have I joined the school in the middle of a massive transformation? But the contents of the email left me confused and in shock. Turns out, the Institute is changing its name from Graduate Institute Geneva to Geneva Graduate Institute, rounding off some typography, increasing size of letters, and “petalising” the red square to “align with the message of its Charter”. Frankly, I could not do anything else but break out in laughter. What is the point of this? And, even more, why are we rebranding in the middle of a pandemic when resources can be allocated elsewhere?
In my view, Geneva Graduate Institute just sounded like a spin-off of the real Graduate Institute Geneva; it sounded like a diploma mill which only exists online and tries to emulate the real institution. Why the change? To emphasise the “distinctive and strong elements of our identity”? Looking at it now, I still perceive the Geneva message is sent across with more strength if Geneva is placed at the end of the name. As emerged from the survey created by the Graduate Press, a significant number of students are concerned about the name change and don’t think it is an effective strategy. Why do we need to communicate our identity by allocating resources to marginally alter the name of the institute for, dare I say, the worse? How is our identity communicated better through making the letters larger and rounder in the red, to-be “petalised”, square? This email felt like a bad April Fools joke accidentally delivered in the middle of November. So many questions popped up in my head that I could not answer, no matter how hard I tried to justify this decision.
But do I need to justify an unnecessary rebranding decision in the middle of the pandemic?
No. It is clear that this rebranding is just another way to pointlessly spend money on unnecessary features which do not even appeal to members of the student body. I wonder, how many consultants were hired to explain the dramatic impact of the new logo and name on the appeal and importance of the Institute? How many people were involved in this process and agreed that this is the best way of spending money the Institute supposedly has very little of, as we have been continuously told?
While this rebranding is happening and unforeseen amounts of resources are and will be poured into this, students suffer from the inability to access financial aid. The number of scholarships is allegedly decreasing because as we were told, the amount of money available is decreasing. Many fantastic students have had to decline their offers to join the Institute because they either were not entitled to the scholarships, or they could not pay the fees and ridiculous living expenses on their own. In reality, many of us who join the Institute had to scramble to put together the necessary funds to afford this endeavour to further our higher education at the Institute. Where are the bursaries to help us support ourselves in Geneva when things get tough? Yet, we are rebranding.
Students have repeatedly called for increased mental health support. We get very limited psychological support, but we must hunt down a private provider at exorbitant fees to seek further help. We have careers services, but we barely have any mental health services. Is this a way of encouraging further deterioration of our mental health? We get clashing deadlines, extremely varied amounts of workload (all depending on the professors teaching the courses), and little time for personal life… But we are rebranding!
Recently, the affordable student meals initiative resurfaced and gained momentum within IHEID. Does the Institute consider 10 CHF (only if you have cash on your student card, mind you) an affordable meal? We have not heard from the Institute about this initiative – what happened to the student voices being heard? Considering the ridiculously high living expenses in Geneva, the affordable student meals would make our lives far easier. Some of us struggle to have nutritious weekly shopping and this change in meal-pricing would allow us to have nutritious meals at least once a day. It is COVID-19 times after all, we are still in the middle of the pandemic, and we are all still struggling with finances. Yet, the Institute is rebranding!
Consider accommodation fees. Grand Morillon Students Residence’s cheapest room starts at what, around 700 CHF? Picciotto is practically filled and inaccessible for first-year students. University of Geneva (UniGe) housing can be found cheaper than whatever IHEID offers, but students need to apply way too early to find a room there. This, when students from across the world are scrambling to pool in money to see if they can afford IHEID education due to lack of adequate financial support from the school. Just because we pay 8000 CHF per year in tuition does not mean we can immediately afford the extremely expensive accommodation. How about the fact that even students with full scholarships can barely pay for accommodation? Grand Morillon is beautiful and an architectural miracle but why does losing a keycard cost 10 CHF for us? Why the additional expenses? So many questions which cannot be answered by the administration. Yet, we are rebranding.
We cannot offer subsidies on student housing, but we can afford replacing the logo of the Institute. We cannot afford to pay our Teaching Assistants more, even if it just meets the paygrade in UniGe, but we can have a grand event to launch the new logo and name. We cannot afford to increase the availability and efficiency of mental health services, but we can afford to pay experts to make this rebranding come into fruition. I have tried to justify the rebranding. But I do not get it. Why are my tuition fees contributing to an unnecessary communications project when there are so many needs and problems of the student community which are yet to be resolved? My perception of the Institute being different seems to be slowly fading. I might be wrong and, perhaps, the Institute has grand plans to improve all the issues which appear ignored and unresolved. Yet, the students live the reality of perpetual decline in mental health, high living expenses which have not been subsidised, and lack of financial aid. However, the Institute is rebranding.
From the Graduate Press’ Editorial Team:
In order to gauge students’ thoughts and impressions about the Institute’s rebranding of the logo and name, the Graduate Press circulated a survey among the student community.
Results from the survey. Of a 100 respondents, 53 said they did not approve of this rebranding, while 22 supported the rebranding. Twenty-five students abstained from expressing their opinion. To a question on whether they would have liked to be involved in the decision of changing the logo as a student at the Graduate Institute, 72 students said ‘Yes’ and 15 students said ‘No’. Thirteen students abstained from expressing their opinion. When asked if they think there was a need to rebrand the logo, 77 students said ‘No’ while 13 students said ‘yes’. Ten students abstaining from taking a side.
Among the comments provided to The Graduate Press, many students were concerned about the brand of the Institute, since it takes years to build one and also because the Institute has already changed its name once in the past. Several students were also critical about the timing of the rebranding exercise in the middle of a pandemic when the Institute has repeatedly mentioned a fund-crunch which, according to them, points to the ‘misplaced priorities’ of the Institute.