‘Important information about your resit’, reads the header of one of the emails sent to law students. The ‘important information’ turns out to be advertising for an exam training course. EM spoke to several law students who showed that they regularly receive emails from the ‘Erasmus School of Law’. The part after that where it says ‘- AthenaStudies’ or ‘- AS’ often does not show up in the email app. “I found it quite annoying to get those emails, because they strongly imply that the university requires you to do something, but then it turns out to be just an advert”, one student says.
Economics and Business Administration also affected
Other students say they find it ‘misleading’ and ‘devious’ and think receiving advertising emails in their inbox that appear to have been sent on behalf of the faculty is ‘going too far’. One student says it is understandable ‘from a marketing perspective’, but it is confusing as well.
Most complaints that EM gathered came from students at the Erasmus School of Law, but Economics and Business Administration students reported complaints as well. One Economics student received an email from ‘Erasmus University Rotterdam – ECO – AS’. She thought it was an email from the university, but AS stands for AthenaStudies, and this was just another advertising email.
Company runs WhatsApp groups with EUR logos as profile photo
AthenaStudies sets up WhatsApp groups for EUR study programmes. The university is…
Earlier this month, it was discovered that the same company is creating group chats in WhatsApp for students in EUR study programmes. The groups appear to have been set up by the faculty: they have names like ‘EUR Law Year 2’. They also use the faculty’s logo as the group profile image. The group administrators are students who are being paid by Athena Studies. They regularly share advertisements in the WhatsApp group chat and like each other’s posts. ‘Satisfied customers’ occasionally share positive reviews of products as well, and these are likewise students who are being paid by the company.
According to one student who wishes to remain anonymous, the company is approaching Eureka Week coaches to get first-year students into the group chats. The student in question also received the offer to share the chat link with his Eureka Week group in exchange for a free tutoring session at Athena. He saw no harm in it at the time but is now annoyed by all the advertising that shows up in the groups. Another student explains how students paid by Athena sometimes share low pass rates from the previous year to then promote one of the company’s summaries. She calls this tactic ‘scaremongering’.
The university has issued a response calling AthenaStudies’ email strategy ‘unlawful’. “They are infringing the trademark rights of Erasmus University Rotterdam. AthenaStudies is also misleading students by operating in this manner. The Legal Affairs department is exploring which legal steps EUR can take against AthenaStudies.” A student who has already raised the issue with the Rotterdam School of Management suggests creating groups through the student associations from now on. He would also like students to receive an email explaining that AthenaStudies is not affiliated with the university.
EM has contacted AthenaStudies multiple times via email, phone and Facebook for a response. The company could not be reached for comment through any of these channels. The (student) administrators of the ‘Athena’ WhatsApp groups also refused to respond to questions.