"Internationalisation of education crucial to the Netherlands"

The Netherlands earns a third of its GDP abroad. It is thus crucial to the business community that young people gain international experience and that foreign students are familiar with the Netherlands. Knowledge institutions, businesses and government agencies are increasingly joining forces to this end.
Posted by Jeroen Langelaar
Portretfoto Peter Potman, MinBuZa

The Netherlands is a small country, so the wider world is always nearby. That certainly applies to Peter Potman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The deputy Director General of External Economic Relations spent much of his professional life at consulates and embassies, from Shanghai to Washington, DC. 

For someone for who is so accustomed to foreign cultures and lives in a country where most universities have English names, it must be a little odd to be one of a small minority with extensive international experience.

Strange paradox

"Despite all the attention we're paying to internationalisation, the number of Dutch students who actually pursue a study or internship abroad is disappointing", Potman tells us. "It is a strange paradox: On the one hand we fly all over the world to go on holiday in faraway places, but we still prefer to study close to home in the Netherlands". 

"That's a pity", Potman continues, "because Dutch companies need people with international experience. We earn a third of our GDP abroad. The stakes are huge. If the Netherlands wants to be able to participate in the world, we'll have to internationalise our education." 

More cooperation needed

This was further underlined during the Dutch state visit to Indonesia earlier this year. According to Potman, there are 'extensive and close' ties between the Netherlands and Indonesia, from the level of vocational education and training to academic higher education. King Willem-Alexander also underlined this in his speech during the state visit, referring to the many 'young men and women who come to the Netherlands to study' and the 'close cooperation between the two countries in the field of science'. 

However, Dutch investors in Indonesia are also struggling to find skilled workers due to the gap between the country's undereducated and highly educated population. Potman: "That's why we need more cooperation between vocational education and training and the international Dutch business community.

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'Internationalisation opens doors that would otherwise remain closed.'

- Hans de Boer, VNO-NCW

"Dutch students gaining international experience and doing internships abroad, international students studying in the Netherlands: they're all great ways to learn more about the world", explains Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW) chair Hans de Boer. "That's crucial, especially for a country like the Netherlands. After all, we're an open economy and our prosperity depends on our international contacts and trade."

"Every time I go on a foreign trade mission, I meet Dutch entrepreneurs who have ended up somewhere as a result of their studies and have developed wonderful initiatives that benefit both the Netherlands and the country where they live. I also meet many foreigners around the world who have studied in the Netherlands and kept our country close to their hearts ever since. That can really help open doors that would stay closed to other countries. Not only do international exchanges yield all sorts of valuable insights on a personal level, they're also crucial to our country and national economy."

As a part of the effort to intensify cooperation between education and the international business community, educational institutions are increasingly participating in foreign trade missions. "That's been a new development over the past few years", Potman explains. "Knowledge institutions take part to network and develop new business - they're basically doing the same as the commercial companies on the mission. That's yielding valuable results. In Indonesia, we saw a clear demand for this knowledge component on the part of the business community and the government." 

Triple helix 

"Knowledge institutions are also crucial to the Netherlands' value proposition", he continues. "It's not about tulips and windmills. The Netherlands offers partners a 'value package' with business solutions, scientific support and government facilitation: triple helix. The days when you simply set up a factory in China are over. The global economy is becoming more knowledge-intensive, which calls for well-trained staff and triple helix collaborations that benefit all participating partners." 

Educational institutions' internationalisation initiatives are thus directly contributing to the Dutch government's efforts to serve as an innovative partner and resolve global challenges.

Holland branding

Nuffic's Netherlands Education Support Offices (Neso's) play an important role in developing these triple helix initiatives. Neso Indonesia will organise a three-day online conference in November in collaboration with Indonesian and Dutch knowledge institutions: WINNER, short for Week of Indonesian Netherlands Education and Research. The event aims to strengthen Indonesian-Dutch cooperation in the field of education and research. A follow-up week is planned for 2021. Triple helix opportunities were also the main focus during the Dutch trade mission to India in 2019 and Orange Knowledge exchange series in South Africa. 

"If the Netherlands wants to be able to participate in the world, we'll have to internationalise our education."

"The Nesos play an important role in disseminating Dutch knowledge and expertise in the area of international education. They're basically doing Holland branding", Potman explains. "The Holland Alumni network is also extremely valuable to the Dutch business sector, especially in Asia. Students who have studied in the Netherlands can really open doors for Dutch companies and help them get on their feet. We hope to maintain those ties moving forward."

Corona offers opportunities 

However, the spread of the Coronavirus, however is hampering internationalisation activities in the fields of both education and business. Potman refers to the current pandemic as a 'blow to globalisation'. 

"Flying around the world used to be normal, but those days are over for the time being. We shouldn't necessarily expect things to get back to the way they were. Companies are already experiencing a shortage of knowledge workers and universities are worried about the international students they were planning to host. While the Coronavirus might not turn everything on its head in the end, we all need to figure out how to deal with these setbacks.

Digitisation will play a major role in this process, and the past few months have shown we can achieve a lot more than we thought. If you don't start asking 'how do we move forward from here?', you're going to miss the boat. There's going be a shift anyway, that's inevitable. In the end, that's going to yield more opportunities rather than less. We need to get them together - government, business and education."

Listen to the interview with Peter van Tuijl of Neso Indonesia in the podcast Our People Abroad, Episode 7: Indonesia