Internationalisation throughout the education system

Two weeks ago the Dutch Education Council, or DEC, provided the minister with primary, secondary and vocational education in his portfolio with advice on the internationalisation of pre-tertiary education. In its report the DEC contends that targets for internationalisation of education in these sectors could be much more ambitious than they have been in the past.

The DEC says that young people need to be taught international competency through encouraging an international attitude, exposure to other cultures and learning to communicate, reflect and collaborate with people from abroad. This, as the DEC writes, will make young people internationally competitive.

To achieve these goals, the DEC says that Dutch education providers should reach beyond the different levels of education, especially with regard to English language and international awareness. Particular attention should be paid to collaboration between the different levels of education provision.

For higher education institutions, this means taking note of the level of international competency of newly recruited students depending on the level of prior education they have received in these matters. While there is time to prepare, higher education institutions need to be involved in the discussion. More importantly, we need to discuss which of these internationalisation aspects is best delivered at the different levels of the education system.

There is a dearth of research on this matter and acting on the basis of intuition or trial and error is not exactly fair to the students being subjected to a renewed attention on internationalisation at all levels.

No duplication of activities

The strategic recommendations from DEC are well thought through and approach the issue in a holistic way. One aspect that deserves special mention is that whatever students are achieving at the various levels of education should become recorded in a dossier. This in turn requires that testing and clear learning outcomes are formulated and acted upon.

Many higher education institutions in the Netherlands are formulating learning outcomes for internationalisation activities. This is only expected to increase over the next few years.

During a recent exercise to adjust the international business and management studies curriculum at Dutch universities of applied sciences to use learning outcomes, it became apparent that, in comparison to the curriculum of secondary schools that have joined the ELOS consortium (a small, growing, and significant group which seeks to promote the European and international dimension in education), the learning outcomes resulting from internationalisation activities at the schools were duplicated in the international business and management studies bachelor programme.

Whilst the ELOS schools are ahead of the pack when it comes to internationalisation, the advice of the DEC suggests all Dutch schools go this way.

A critical examination of what happens where and what needs to be done with the higher education curriculum in this respect is warranted. Mind you, there is still quite some time to make these adjustments. Nevertheless, I believe this situation to be a call to action and intense dialogue between all education sectors.

Robert Coelen is professor of internationalisation of higher education at Stenden University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.