Internationalisation in education is gaining pace

Gaining international experience in education is becoming increasingly common. On average, pupils and students embrace internationalisation faster than their (future) teachers/lecturers.
Internationalisering in beeld 2018 klein

Learning another language or through the medium of another language, taking part in an exchange abroad or an international curriculum, are becoming increasingly common. What is striking is that, on average, pupils and students embrace internationalisation faster than their (future) teachers/lecturers. These are the key findings of "Focus on Internationalisation" (Internationalisering in Beeld‌ (7.2 MB) - in Dutch), a report which Nuffic presented on 31 January 2019.

For data on internationalisation in English, please visit the online dashboards.

This is the first time an analysis has been made of how international the Dutch education sector actually is. The analysis indicates that pupils and students in all sectors of education encounter internationalisation but that it certainly does not involve everyone. In addition, pupils and students appear to acquire international experience in a wide variety of ways.

Primary and secondary education

In primary education, the emphasis is on learning a foreign language and global citizenship. Some 1,250 primary schools offer English from Year 1. In secondary education, almost 40% of all schools provide some form of internationalisation. Through increased foreign language provision, provision of an international curriculum or exchanges for pupils and teachers, for example. With more than 36,000 pupils, the network for Bilingual Education is one of the largest networks in secondary education.

In schools with an international curriculum, pupils work with other countries, for example, which enables them to see subject content from a different perspective. As a result, pupils not only do better in a foreign language but they also acquire international skills.

Senior secondary vocational education and higher education

7.6% of students in senior secondary vocational education go abroad to study or to undertake a work placement. The figure for higher education is slightly higher, at 25%. The Netherlands is ahead of other EU countries in this regard. Far fewer students choose to study in full at a foreign research university or university of applied sciences: only 2%, compared with a European average of 3.3%.

Coordination could be better

According to the analysis, coordination with secondary education could be better. Pupils who started learning English early on in primary school, for example, enter secondary education at the same level as other pupils.

Teachers/lecturers lagging behind

Teachers/lecturers play a key role in developing the international skills of pupils and students. If teachers/lecturers have developed these skills themselves they will be in a better position to help their pupils/students do likewise. However, the researchers conclude that, on average, they are less quick to embrace internationalisation than pupils and students. Teachers/lecturers, for example, make very limited use of the opportunities they are offered for going abroad. The same applies to students on teacher training courses, who are the teachers of the future.


Gaining international experience at school and university is crucial for pupils and students if they are to hold their own on the jobs market and in society as a whole. If they have international skills, they will be better able to engage with other cultures and they will understand their own culture better. Nuffic emphasises that internationalisation also has a broader impact: it can help strengthen our knowledge economy, align education more closely with the jobs market and enable more effective collaboration with other countries at political, social and economic level.

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