A revamped vision for international education

Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science Dr Jet Bussemaker has released a new vision for the internationalisation of education. It positions The Netherlands as a knowledge economy with a quality education system that offers opportunities for talented young people worldwide – who the country would like to attract permanently – and includes all levels of education.

The vision presented to parliament last Wednesday opens with evidence of the enhanced creativity, entrepreneurialism and accelerated careers of graduates who have had an international education.

The minister challenges Dutch higher and vocational education institutions into action, and agrees with her predecessor that institutions wishing to be internationally active should be beyond reproach in terms of quality at home.

But whereas previously the focus was on the home campus, it is now shifting towards the international positioning of Dutch higher education and The Netherlands as a knowledge economy with opportunities for talented young individuals.

The minister proposes a range of actions, from financial support to clearing obstacles for the further development of transnational education, and double and joint degrees.

Bussemaker wants to facilitate the inward mobility of talented students from outside Europe, as well as the outward mobility of excellent Dutch students. She wants to mobilise an additional 10,000 students or so over the next decade in the two directions.

Attracting talent

Judging by the rhetoric in her vision, there will be mechanisms to encourage international students to stay after study to contribute to building the Dutch knowledge economy.

This will in part be achieved via more convenient arrangements for an orientation period – to look for or create a job – for those who have graduated from a Dutch university, for up to three years after completing a degree.

It will become easier for international students to learn Dutch both during their stay and before. This should facilitate their ability to integrate in a country where more than 80% of the population speaks sufficient English to hold a conversation with a native English speaker.

The minister supports the introduction of online and mobile versions of a ‘game’ to learn Dutch. This will be introduced before the summer of 2015. Information about working in The Netherlands after studying, as a further stimulus, will become more accessible.


Dutch higher education will receive incentives to become more visible.

Bussemaker also wants to involve higher education institutions and businesses in realising a scholarship scheme to fund increased international mobility. The involvement of the business sector in the scholarship scheme is of course quite crucial.

An example of this is the collaboration of Eindhoven University of Technology with Manipal University of India. Students follow a double masters degree programme.

To pay for the costs of study in The Netherlands, Indian students have a loan agreement that they pay back during the time of employment in, for instance, one of the many businesses in Eindhoven’s Brainport high technology park.

The park is also involved in a pilot to recruit foreign talent.

Higher education consulted

It is quite clear that the minister has listened to the higher education sector.

A key document was a joint vision on internationalisation produced recently by the Dutch Association of Universities and the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences.

Among other things the document highlighted areas of concern regarding developing a full gamut of internationalisation activities. The minister’s vision acknowledges these concerns and has prepared the way for a number of solutions.

One of these relates to the provision of transnational education – one of the mechanisms to make Dutch higher education more visible.

In 2012 Stenden University of Applied Sciences, a pioneer with four international branch campuses across the world since 2000, was asked to modify the programme of study for branch campus students to include a compulsory full year of study – 25% of the total degree programme – in The Netherlands.

Before that, students were able to graduate without having studied in The Netherlands. This arrangement put Stenden University at odds with higher education institutions from other nations and this was seen as an obstacle to fully realising the potential of transnational education.

The minister has signalled her intention to effectively abolish this requirement. This would bring conditions in The Netherlands on par with, for example, transnational education activities carried out by universities in the United Kingdom. There are other Dutch institutions interested in transnational education opportunities.

The first large batch of international branch campus students will be arriving at the Stenden University campus this September, mostly from Qatar. It remains to be seen whether the enthusiasm displayed by these students will affect those coming after them.

A year in The Netherlands may turn out to be something these students had not expected. They may in turn ‘infect’ others to make the same journey, even in the absence of the rule.

In any case, inter-campus mobility is something Stenden University promotes among its students as the ‘Grand Tour’. It is a strongly rising form of international mobility allowing for seamless integration into a student’s programme.

This certainly is something the minister will approve as it fits directly into her plans that institutions should ensure that their curricula include a mobility window.

Netherlands Education Support Offices

The Netherlands Education Support Offices – NESO – network will receive additional funding to ensure that it can also assist vocational education to extend internationalisation efforts.

This is a logical move given the merger of The Netherlands organisation for international cooperation in higher education, Nuffic, and the European Platform. The latter organisation assists Dutch pre-tertiary education with internationalisation.

The minister sees this as the first move towards integrated support for internationalisation at all levels of education.

In addition, the recent cut to the budget of the NESO network, which led to reorganisation, has brought about a renewed focus and the proposed relocation of a number of NESO offices into Dutch Embassies. The minister decided to provide additional funding for two years to assist Nuffic in making the required changes.

Much of the current vision of Jet Bussemaker derives support from the renewal of Europe’s Erasmus mobility programme into Erasmus+. New opportunities provided by the European programme connect very well with the minister’s intentions.

All in all, for those of us concerned on an almost daily basis with internationalisation of education, this is a positive step towards mainstreaming an essential aspect of education – including internationalisation at home – in today’s globalised world.

* Dr Robert Coelen is professor of internationalisation of higher education at Stenden University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands. He has been vice-president international of the university and executive dean of the Stenden University campus in Doha, Qatar.