Opinion Student Life

Evolving the Brand, Leaving the Students Behind

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. 

9 comments on “Evolving the Brand, Leaving the Students Behind

  1. We have money for rebranding but do not have any to provide necessary menstruation hygiene items in washrooms


  2. Students on the executive education programs such as the LLM did not even get the courtesy of an email on this rebranding


  3. The well-known name of the Institute used to be HEI, recognised for its international studies. It took an extraordinary circumstance in 2008 when development studies became at the heart of international affairs as well, and thereby changing its name and logo to the Graduate Institute Geneva or IHEID to reflect its new vision and mission. While the Institute vision/mission has changed slightly to better reflect its purpose, I believe the name still stands firm for its new purpose and the name should not be changed.

    Changing the name/logo in 2021 and without a real purpose would demolish the heritage of HEI in 1927 and the profound development agenda incorporated with the establishment of IHEID in 2008. Calling it Geneva Graduate Institute with a new logo is indeed weird and would be bad for all the alumni since 2008. In case admin is reading this and is concerned, placing the place name at the end is cool and similar to institutions like Science Po PARIS or Imperial College LONDON. Rather I hope more efforts are taken to improve the quality and brand of Graduate Institute GENEVA better, rather than changing its name/logo and starting things from scratch, wiping out its narrative and history in 1927 and 2008.


    • Even more than this, it obliterates the history of IUED, the critical institution that combined with HEI to create IHEID as we know it today. HEI already has overpowered this legacy, and the critical voices that were a part of the institution (but are still in places like the History and ANSO departments). To erase this history is concerning – because it creates a culture without one, as if it appeared from nowhere, and thus is easy to adapt to the ideologies of the day, instead of being grounded in historical context and conflicts that continue to shape the institution to this day.


  4. Looks like nothing much has changed. I studied there from 2011-13. This was also the time when I had severe clinical depression and insomnia. I used to get medical help and a doctor’s letter for extension of deadlines when I could not cope. They granted me a few extensions but 10 days before posting the grade they simply decided that they will withdraw the extensions. This meant that I had to write four papers in the span of ten days for which I had medically sought extensions. I was specifically told that if I didn’t turn these four papers in the next 10 days, I would have to retake the semester. This was without warning or any kind of prior information. I had an severe panic attack on knowing about this, which BTW didn’t even come form the admin, a professor called me to inform me of the decision at the institute.

    I must also add, that year I saw several of my cohorts suffering and dealing with mental health issues but without any respite from the professors or the administration. A lot of the times, a few professors would thoroughly break the morale of the students making severe comments about how they were inapt or completely useless. This usually fostered really hostile competition between students as well….because if one didn’t pay excessive attention to their own academic progress, it would cost them their image with the professors.

    Not to mention the inaction against all the complaints of sexual harassment at the institute. Such behavior on part of men is usually excused and there are no ramifications whatsoever.

    I must mention that sometimes if you are lucky, you can find help in a few professors that will be there to support you. But that is a rare blessing available to only a few people.

    It truly sad that this has gone on for far too long….I hope for those at the institute, they are finding a little respite and help even if it means outside of the institute.


  5. While I most certainly do understand the call for better services (grants, scholarships, mental support, and so forth), I am always surprised at the harsh critique that is slung at the Institute. May I remind all students that compared to most universities, the services provided are excellent. Not to mention that the Graduate Institute is one of the places in Switzerland where the percentage of students who receive financial help is the largest.

    Most of the people I met at the institute, also from third-world countries, are among the most privileged I have met in my life, in all senses. To be frank, and to use a much-used (and in my opinion over-used) phrase: Check your privilege.


    • Massimiliano

      This anonymous smells of Institute’s admin…

      On the substance, it would be helpful to have examples of these excellent services. The percentage of students who receive financial help is so ‘large’ in comparison to other universities in Switzerland because tuition fees are much higher than the average (and otherwise unaffordable) and because the Institute depends heavily on attracting a ‘diverse’ crowd from many different countries, which would be impossible without financial support taking into consideration that living costs are three times higher than even neighbouring countries. Additionally, that percentage includes PhD students, who are generally paid in other Swiss universities and not given a meagre scholarhsip far from covering living expenses.

      The use of ‘third-world’ is nasty… If you are a (ex-?)student it would be probaly more useful to go back on what you hopefully learned here than leaving these useless comments.


  6. incapables de voir plus loin que le bout de leur nez…


  7. Before commenting on your arguments, I would recommend you to tackle the arguments at stake instead of resorting in unfair and pity ad-hominem falacies which do not, under any circumstance, contribute to the debate.

    I never said we students must not have better resources at our availability, I am only pointing towards the fact that, truly, the services provided by the institute are not so bad when compared to other universities. This of course does not mean that there is (plenty of) room for improvement.

    The use of `third-world` is actually not nasty and still used in academic circles. Over the years it has acquired a nasty connotation but historically the term has not been loaded with negative connotations. Per this I do not feel obliged to use other terms: though I do use `developing countries` more often.


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