How AthenaStudies forces expensive course material on TU Delft students

The AthenaStudies company uses study groups on WhatsApp to promote its exam trainings and other products. TU Delft students are annoyed. “It is really irritating advertising.”

Students line up at X for an exam. (Photo: Justyna Botor)

This is what you will read.

  • Several TU Delft students share their experiences about the way in which AthenaStudies misuses their app group for commercial purposes.
  • One student talks about the disorganised course material that she received as a student.
  • One director of education’s response was “This is morally reprehensible.”

Groningen University’s UKrant recently brought AthenaStudies’ practices to light. AthenaStudies is a commercial business that approaches students in its WhatsApp groups with all sorts of surreptitious advertising. The company hires students to share pre-prepared scripts during exam periods. The UKrant reports that ‘One person says how hard it is, the second person agrees, and the third asks how they deal with it’. Then follows links to AthenaStudies’ materials. Students are annoyed and are sometimes confused as the company even uses the logo of Groningen University in some of the associated app groups.

Delta put out a call to see if this was also being done at TU Delft as a glance at the AthenaStudies website showed that the company has summaries for at least five TU Delft courses. We received responses and screenshots from a number of students.

Two app groups


One of them is Daan Kuivenhoven, a third year Industrial Design Engineering student. He is a member of his degree programme’s Education Committee and therefore in the app group for first year students. Well, the group. There are two as AthenaStudies beat the ID study association in making a group for the first-years’ weekend by sharing a group invitation first. This group is called ‘Jaar 1 IO 2022/2023’. One of Kuivenhoven’s attachments was this screenshot.


It does not have the TU Delft or the study association logo as an avatar, but it does have a photo of the Faculty building. “This made it very confusing for new students and for the organisers of our first-years’ weekend, given that they always have to answer a lot of questions about it.” As always, ID made a WhatsApp group but saw that not all first years started using it. “So now if we share anything from TU Delft or ID, we usually do so in both groups.”


Kuivenhoven sees that AthenaStudies’ surreptitious advertising increases a couple of weeks before the exams. “You get a few apps almost every day about the limited number of places left in the courses and that you need to hurry. It’s really annoying advertising.” AthenaStudies’s website lists options for IDE such as a practice session on Understanding Product Engineering for EUR 42, or recordings of the 12 hour long course on Product Dynamics given by a student, Micha, for EUR 188.

Kuivenhoven also sends an example of a ‘completely irrelevant promo’ – a video clip of singer René Karst who sings an incomprehensible couplet about AthenaStudies. “I understand that AthenaStudies can help students prepare for exams, but they do this in such a pushy way,” says the student.


Unwanted private message


A third year student of Mechanical Engineering (his name is known to Delta) recognises Kuivenhoven’s story. He too sees AthenaStudies’ ‘irritating infiltration into student app groups to promote their expensive courses’. They are usually about the subjects covered in that quarter and are intended for substantive or organisational questions. He also sees that students in these groups usually share advertising during exam periods. “One group description even specified ‘No advertising from Athena pleas’’. There is often an angry response.”


The student received a private message offering him the opportunity to work for AthenaStudies. He did not appreciate this as he considers this way of doing things ‘invasive’. “My first reaction was to respond rudely, but I did not do so in the end as I assumed that the guy probably did not enjoy having to app random people.”

One student at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering (AE), who did not want to be named (his name is known to Delta.), responded. This student is in the third year and forwarded screenshots from a while ago. “We had a lot of spam about a year ago. There were constant messages about AthenaStudies in the app group of my year. People were removed a few times for blatantly advertising. Other students were really agitated.”

One master’s student, also at AE (name is known to Delta), had the same experience. He and his friends were very annoyed by AthenaStudies’ messages during their bachelor, he writes, because TU Delft has good student assistants and teachers also offer help. “ The target group that would buy this is really mainly new students who are overwhelmed and don’t know about the free resources provided by the uni. That’s why it felt a little scammy to us.”

The master’s student also saw that some older students were being approached to work for AthenaStudies.  “The screening process was not that thorough, so they didn’t seem to make sure to get exceptionally good tutors as they claimed.” What bothered the student the most is that a commercial entity is exacerbating the inequalities between students and ruining the good atmosphere in the app groups.  “When you have a company like this come into the mix, students who know the subjects well might be attracted to work there and those kinds of organic natural communities are not as strong and don’t have a chance to flourish.

Unclear summaries
A second year student of Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management (SEPAM) (her name is known to Delta) does not have any experience with the app group, but does have experience with AthenaStudies’ courses. She took three courses, including Calculus which many people fail. In terms of content she thought the courses were ‘okay’ and the students who gave the subjects ‘skilled’. But still, she is not really that positive. “Little things often went wrong. Dates and times were changed at the last minute, I received a table containing antiderivatives with an error. The summaries were unclear and were full of unfinished sentences and mistakes.”

The student did the courses against the advice of her academic counsellor, she says, for 12 hours on Zoom at EUR 10 to EUR 15 an hour. At least one third of the time was breaks. Why did she do them? She did not feel confident. “I did them to confirm that I knew what I needed to know. And it was useful that the courses were held in the run-up to an exam. You then have most of the questions and you are too late anyway for the teacher.” Nevertheless, she thinks she will skip them next time. “It is expensive and I would probably have passed without it anyway.”

A notification to all first years
Back at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, and Ruud Balkenende, Director of Education, responds indignantly to the news that AthenaStudies is bombarding students at his Faculty with advertising. “I did not know about this, but our Education and Student Affairs Department does.”

A few years back it transpired that the Education and Student Affairs Department came into contact with AthenaStudies when they acted as though an ‘IDE Faculty Manager’ worked for them. It turned out to be a student assistant. Education and Student Affairs Department also had to put their foot down when AthenaStudies tried to rent course space in the Faculty. “We did not want it as you would give the impression that coaching was needed,” says Balkenende. This is not the case. We try to make sure that the subjects are doable and student surveys shows that this is the case.”

Balkenende repeats what the student of Systems Engineering heard from her academic counsellor: that students are free to take coaching if they so wish. And companies may offer the materials. But he finds the way in which this is done unacceptable. “They work in a morally reprehensive way. To put it very mildly, it is not right to give the impression that an app group is from the Faculty by adding ‘Jaar 1 IO 2022/2023’ and a photo of our building.” And that is not his only objection. He does not think it is right that the first years now have two app groups, of which one is made by a commercial business. “I’m considering issuing a notification to all first years so that they know what is going on. I will also consult them on how this can be avoided and how we can help them avoid it.”

AthenaStudies did not respond to our requests for their side of the story. Delta also approached two IDE students who work for Athena, but they too did not respond. The reason that most students do not want their names to be used is that they shared screenshots in which other people are shown or that they know students who work for AthenaStudies.

Also read the UKrant articles

Editor in chief Saskia Bonger

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