Hello, Good question.
Yes. I have tried in twice (across multiple universities). Once more successfully and once less successfully.
1. THE MASS EMAIL APPROCH
THINK and then TLYCS tried to start groups at universities around the world.
For each university we would find emails of anyone who we thought could forward a message onto a large group, anything from student representatives, to people running big student societies to professors of topics that might have students interested in effective altruism, etc, etc.
Using publicly available data We collated a list of 1000s of contacts, maybe 20-40 per university for 100s of universities.
We then emailed and said can you forward this message onto your students and the message to forward on said please start an EA chapter at your university we will help you. The students then had an application form where they had to apply to run a group.
I think this was successful. This started maybe 20 EA chapters around the world. The groups didn’t thrive for years but it helped get EA started and build the community in the early days.
In case helpful see: email templates and THINK summary
2. THE NETWORKING APPROACH
I tried to start student groups in London Universities when I was the London coordinator. I sorted a list of London universities by size to get a starting point and then I essentially networked through my contacts to find EA sympathetic people at London universities who would run a group. I then got them to agree to run the group and helped get them started by running introductory events and tabling at university freshers fair stalls.
This lead to a few university groups at least being registered at universities, but they were very small and mostly petered out (so was less successful). I think this is because the group leaders were less excited about running a group – they had more been pushed/nudged into it by me more than got excited by the idea and applied to do it. (Also maybe because, given my personal network, they were more likely to be grad/PhD students rather than undergrads so was a bit harder for them to engage with other students).
That said I do think some of these groups are still going successfully today.
I hope that helps.