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Netherlands one step closer to full degrees overseas as TNE bill passes

After two years of political debate, Dutch universities may soon be able to offer full degree programmes overseas. The Dutch House of Representatives has passed a transnational education bill that also aims to boost the development of international joint programmes.

Dutch education minister, Jet Bussemaker"You can see that it enhances the visibility of our education," said the Dutch education minister, Jet Bussemaker, of the transnational education bill. Photo: Flickr/Reed Business Events.

“The legislation may help strengthen the international competitive position of Dutch higher education"

If the bill passes through the senate, an administrative decree will follow this summer, laying out more details such as accreditation procedures.

At the moment Dutch institutions may offer partial degrees overseas, but their students must spend at least a quarter of their programme in the Netherlands.

“You also see that foreign institutions with campuses overseas abroad are rising in the international rankings”

This is also the case for students enrolled on international joint or double degree programmes offered by Dutch institutions. They must also pay tuition fees to both the Dutch university and its foreign partner institution, which can more than double the cost of study.

The relaxation of the rules around joint degrees means that if the bill passes, students will only pay fees to their home institution in the Netherlands.

Presenting the bill to parliament, education minister Jet Bussemaker said success stories from universities in other countries demonstrate that the Netherlands could also stand to benefit from opening up to more TNE activity.

“You can see that it enhances the visibility of our education,” she said. “You also see that foreign institutions with campuses overseas abroad are rising in the international rankings.”

More than 240 Dutch institutions currently offer degrees overseas, according to a research paper written by Rosa Becker, senior researcher at Netherlands Organisation for Internationalisation of Education (Nuffic) and published by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education.

In stark contrast, there is only one publicly funded Dutch university with campuses overseas – Stenden University of Applied Sciences, which opened four locations between 2000 and 2009.

Its campuses in South Africa, Qatar, Thailand and Indonesia now enrol some 600 students, plus an additional 500 ‘intercampus’ mobile students.

“We do expect that the legislation will result in more joint programmes, as well as the first full programmes abroad,” a spokesperson for VSNU told The PIE News.

“This is to be expected, since universities clearly stated their need for a wider range of possibilities in terms of joint programmes and transnational education.”

Among the universities planning expansion overseas is the University of Groningen, whose plans to establish a branch campus in Yantai, China offering six degrees is awaiting government approval.

“Does it add something to the provision of training abroad? Does it have social and educational value?”

“The bill will help Dutch HEIs to establish more competitive and innovative joint degree partnerships as it will solve long-standing problems, such as the need to remove the requirement for a minimum study in the Netherlands and the complex fee structure for joint degree students,” predicted Vangelis Tsiligiris, founder of the international TNE Hub network and a senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University.

Although institutions will be able to apply for permission to offer full degrees abroad if the bill passes, some restrictions on TNE will remain. Minister Bussemaker stressed during the parliamentary debate over the bill that TNE campuses must be able to demonstrate a “substantial added value”.

“Does it add something to the provision of training abroad? Does it have social and educational value? That can sometimes be the case, because there are developed networks, or because it is easier to achieve student and teacher exchange,” she said.

And universities won’t be allowed to spend any public money on establishing a branch campus, and only degrees that are also taught within the Netherlands will be permitted in TNE offerings.

However, prohibiting the use of public funds in TNE activity creates a “great opportunity” for public-private partnerships, according to Tsiligiris.

“I think this bill creates a positive TNE environment in the Netherlands, primarily for north-to-north or west-to-west type of TNE research-focused partnerships,” he added.

When – and if – the bill passes through the senate, government must also vote on the proposal, in order for it to come into effect for September 2017.

In her OBHE report, Becker noted: “In time, and if approved by the senate, the legislation may help strengthen the international competitive position of Dutch higher education.”

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