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Boudewijn Grievink, Radboud University, Netherlands

With the number of English-taught bachelor’s programs increasing across the continent, European higher education is becoming more internationalised. But the opportunities they provide to attract more international students also comes with its own set of unique challenges. Deputy head of Radboud University’s international office, Boudewijn Grievink, shares his perspective on how the Dutch are addressing these concerns.

The PIE: How many international students does Radboud University have and where do they come from?

"There is a minimum number of students you need to keep running certain programs. If they're not coming from the Netherlands, then you have to get them elsewhere"

BG: Currently, about 10% of our students are international. That being said, we are fairly close to the German border, so there are quite a few students that are actually from the region, but just across the border.

Our students come mostly from Europe. Germany is a major market for us. Other than that, Britain, which still is part of Europe, of course. They’re basically coming from all over.

There’s quite a nice spread and one of the goals that we have of our internationalisation strategy is to have intercultural and international classrooms. We want people from all over the world because we believe it contributes to the quality of education.

The PIE: Are English-taught programs central to Radboud University’s internationalisation strategy?

BG: In the context of the Netherlands, if you don’t offer English-taught programs, it’s pretty hard to get international students in.

A larger chunk of the student population is international, so our organisation has to adapt its services to suit international students as well.

The PIE: Have you looked at other countries in developing your strategy?

BG: One of our partners, the University of Glasgow, we send a couple of staff members for staff training to see how they recruit. But the national context of this country is something you really have to take into account.

“We put caps on some programs, but if students from the Netherlands are admissible, we have to accept them”

The way British universities operate is hugely different from how Dutch universities operate and also how higher education is perceived by society as a whole.

The PIE: What has been Radboud University’s experience so far trying to attract international students?

BG: The admission process for a Dutch student is way easier because we know what diplomas are worth and we know what steps they have to take. There are no visas, there’s no accrediting diplomas.

Now, the volume [of international students] is getting bigger, we have more dedicated people with more expertise who can really focus on all the international applications.

But still, the capacity, all the applications we’re getting, sometimes there’s an issue to make sure we can handle in time and give a quick response.

The PIE: Were there issues with program capacity as well?

BG: With our psychology, we just didn’t expect it to be so popular. With different programs where we’re moving from Dutch to English, we take that experience into account. We put caps on some programs, but if students from the Netherlands are admissible, we have to accept them.

The PIE: Has internationalisation been supported by the Dutch government?

BG: Some political parties are not really in favour of internationalisation and especially when you look within Europe, other European students are paying the same fee as Dutch students which is around €2,000. The government pays an additional amount towards the institutional fee which is around €10,000.

Some people in the Netherlands think they are paying for all these Belgians and Germans coming to the Netherlands. For each student, that would be about €8,000 coming from the Dutch government to pay for that.

But there’s also part of the government that says if an international student stays to work in the Netherlands for five years, that will basically cover for the cost of 20-30 other international students’.

The PIE: Is there a sense of other benefits to increasing the international student population and retaining it afterwards?

BG: In the long term, if we look at the demographics of the Netherlands, you will see that the number of students is going down because the birth rate has. There is a minimum number of students you need to keep running certain programs. If they’re not coming from the Netherlands, then you have to get them elsewhere.

“Some professors say the quality of education is actually better in Dutch because we can be more nuanced than we would be in English”

Some people are saying that we’re just doing it for the money. I think that’s too easily said because that’s not the case.

The PIE: How has Radboud University tried to tackle that perception?

BG: In the end it’s the faculties themselves that have to decide which programs are suitable to change and which are not. There’s no sense in offering Dutch law in English, for instance.

Some people are saying let’s just switch everything to English because we can make money. In our case, it makes no sense, because we just really wanted to see which programs would have added value by offering it in English.

The PIE: Has there been any community pushback against offering programs in English?

BG: Language is an extremely important issue. Some people are afraid that we’re losing the Dutch language and we’re losing our identity. Some professors say the quality of education is actually better in Dutch because we can be more nuanced than we would be in English.

I think there is a point there, but it’s also something you can address with additional training.

When it comes to international students, if they are in an English-taught program, they can just follow the program. About 70% of the population speaks English so there’s no reason to learn Dutch to be able to integrate into society.

The PIE: What do you think the future of Radboud will be, especially in terms of ETBs?

BG: I think some programs clearly see the benefit of internationalising and working towards double degrees. When you offer an English-style program, it’s easier to do that kind of stuff as well.

I think there are many upsides to ETBs, but it should not be a dogma saying we’re going to be a completely English university. That’s not who we are.

We are a Dutch University and the question will be whether we will be a Dutch University where some English-taught programs are taught or whether it will be 50/50. That’s also up to the academics.

Maybe it’s a Dutch approach. There’s this question going on right now to determine where do we want to go. Societal changes and the societal response to internationalisation will have an influence on that, we just have to see how that plays out.


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