Nuffic at 70: ‘Meet the world, it’s both our past and our future’

As Nuffic celebrates its 70th birthday, Director-General Titia Bredée talks about Nuffic’s important role in internationalisation. ‘It’s only by working together that we can help the world move forwards.’
Titia Bredee abstract

In August, Titia Bredée took up her post as the new Director-General of Nuffic. We chat with her as Nuffic marks its 70th year.

Which encounter has been most striking for you in your first months as Nuffic director?
“That was a few months back, when administrators and researchers from six Iraqi universities visited Wageningen University & Research. I was attending the event together with Nuffic’s Global Manager – during a phase when it was possible for that to take place live. The visit to the Netherlands had already been in preparation for two years, and it showed: the people were full of pride and passion as they talked about their research and projects.

In addition, the universities signed a gender equality plan. I think that’s a great example of our projects in developing countries, where Dutch knowledge institutes work together with knowledge institutes in 38 countries all over the world in fields such as sustainability, inclusion, water and food.”

Nuffic has been operating for 70 years. What does that tell us about the importance of internationalisation?
“Our 70th birthday shows that Nuffic plays an essential role in internationalisation. We’re the ambassador, connector and expert in the field of education internationalisation, and we continually publish independent research on a wide range of themes. This year, the educational comparison department assessed a record number of diplomas: 50,000 recommendations. This is an incredible number, and it’s crucial for knowledge exchange.

We also do plenty behind the scenes. To give just one example, Nuffic has guided the ‘Bologna Experts’, a group of Dutch internationalisation officers in higher education, right from the start. They are helping to translate the Bologna Declaration into concrete guidelines and recommendations. And we shouldn’t forget the NL Alumni Network either.”

What does internationalisation actually mean here?
“The Nuffic hashtag expresses it nicely: #meettheworld. Simply by meeting each other, learning from each other and researching together, you can help the world move forwards. For us as a small country, looking outwards in this way is even more important. We can only hold our position in the global top league if we maintain our open and outward gaze. And it’s true, this also needs to involve more balance in incoming and outgoing student mobility. But the content should always be the key factor.

It’s more than physical mobility: there are also countless opportunities within the Netherlands, such as multilingual teaching, eTwinning and Internationalisation at home. It’s about intercultural skills, sharing knowledge and contributing to solutions for challenges facing the world. We achieve this by collaborating across borders. Internationalisation is the means, not the end.”

“Internationalisation is the means, not the end.”

Is this cross-border cooperation something that’s accessible to all?
“Further progress is still required in this area. With respect to inclusion, a frequent approach is to provide ‘stepping stones’, in other words various forms of support. But many talented young people first need to find the path to these stepping stones. We have to ask these young people: what do you need so that an experience abroad becomes a realistic option for you? In addition, it’s important for education institutions to have ambassadors with whom young people can identify. These can be first-generation students, or students from lower-income families.”

Nuffic supports the Sustainable Development Goals. Are these a booster for internationalisation?
“Absolutely! Nuffic focuses mainly on the SDGs of education, partnerships and inclusion. This automatically leads to other goals, such as those relating to water and food. The new Coalition Agreement creates a lot of space for internationalisation, too, in areas such as collaboration in Europe, development cooperation, trade and the Africa agenda.”

“We as Nuffic are continually seeing how we can contribute to this. We create partnerships with agendas that you can hold us to. If we do our work well, projects can be realised in terms of good content as well. In recent months, I’ve regularly been pleasantly surprised with how many experts we have on our staff, covering a huge range of themes. This is expertise that we have built up, and passed on, over all these years. So I have no doubt whatsoever that we as Nuffic can continue to evolve in line with what’s being asked of us. This is also true of the challenges relating to sustainability, coronavirus, inclusion and digitalisation.”

“Meet the world. This is how Nuffic started, and it’s where our future lies too.”

How do you see Nuffic’s future, and what do you want to focus on?
“I’m very optimistic. We will continue to seek collaboration in all partnerships in the fields of education, research and innovation. In the process we’ll need to constantly ensure that we involve everyone, give everyone the chance to participate. Key issues for projects abroad are focus and scalability. I think it’s a valuable approach to use more pilots in foreign projects; these can be continually evaluated and, depending on the results, you can quickly upscale or downscale them.”

“Besides this, I want to continue investing in our links with partner organisations in Europe, and simultaneously look further afield, for instance to the United Sates. Of course our programmes in developing countries will also remain important. As I keep saying: meet the world. This is how Nuffic started, and it’s where our future lies too.”