'Nuffic wants to help build a world in which everyone can participate'

Significant changes to Nuffic's range of tasks were announced in the summer of 2019. This marked the start of a turbulent period, which was further compounded this year by the coronavirus crisis.

We discussed the situation with Director Freddy Weima.
Posted by Nuffic

“It's been a tough year”, Weima concluded in late 2019. Nuffic faced a lot of challenges and uncertainty. 2020 was supposed to provide clarity about the coming changes

We now finally have a clear picture of the future. So how did the changes affect Nuffic?

"They're major changes with a huge impact on the organisation. As announced in early September, Nuffic has been awarded a contract to provide services for primary and secondary education and for vocational education and training (VET). The contract will enter into force at the start of 2021, allowing us to continue and further develop these activities. To this end, we aim to enter into various new partnerships with organisations such as Kennisnet, Kennisland and ECHO, the Diversity Policy Expertise Centre.

According to a decision by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, Nuffic will be administering the Erasmus+ programmeas of next year, not only primary, secondary and higher education, but also for vocational education and training, and adult education. These activities are currently being conducted by CINOP. I greatly appreciate the fact that this transfer is taking place in good cooperation.

In another change, a number of our current responsibilities such as credential evaluation, research activities and the provision of information to students will be enshrined in law in future. This will allow us to guarantee the continuity of these services in the longer term. These are positive developments. On the flip-side, some of Nuffic's current tasks will also be disappearing."

Which tasks will Nuffic no longer be carrying out?

“We'll have to say goodbye to the Neso (Netherlands Education Support Offices, ed.) network. Our international offices are set to close as of 2021. Turkey, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and China will be first, followed by the other countries. It's a political decision, and we can only respect it. We obviously think it's a shame and hope we can find other ways of continuing educational cooperation in some countries. For example, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is planning to appoint teaching and science attachés; we hope to hear more about that soon.

Nuffic has also opened offices and branches abroad as part of our Global development programmes on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and EU. These offices support local scholarship programmes and projects. There are opportunities in this area for several Neso countries, which we will be exploring in the near future.

Funding for the Holland Alumni Network will also end after 2021. We hope there's potential for some sort of relaunch, because it would be a real shame if the network was lost."

So how will this affect Nuffic?

"We'll have to undergo a major reorganisation. Some tasks will disappear, other, new activities will be introduced. We'll have a new organisation in place by January 2021, in which we want to accommodate as many employees as possible. It's an exciting and intensive process that requires a great deal of care; our people are our greatest asset. They have a wealth of knowledge, which partners such as schools, institutions and ministries appreciate. This is also reflected in our Customer Survey.”

How do you look back on this turbulent period?

"It was already a really challenging year with lots of uncertainties. The coronavirus crisis obviously made everything worse. Everyone started working from home in March, and we've only occasionally seen each other in person ever since. The situation raised some entirely new questions. Can I still keep my scholarship? Will I still get a residence permit? Those questions won't go away until the crisis is over. In the long term, I still think Nuffic has a bright future ahead. Our people have been doing a great job despite the coronavirus crisis. We've also adopted a solid strategy for the coming five years, which we feel very confident about.”

And what are your priorities for the coming years?

"We want to help build a world in which everyone can participate. In terms of the Netherlands, that means we want all pupils and students to be able to acquire international competencies. They will need that knowledge and competency to function and succeed in society and in the labour market of the future. This will also contribute to fair and equal opportunities.

International relations have become far more turbulent in recent years. At the same time, the coronavirus crisis has illustrated just how interconnected our world really is. It has made collaboration in the fields of education and science all the more crucial. Our programmes in areas such as Global Development aim to contribute to that goal and provide opportunities to a greater number of students.

We will continue to evolve as a knowledge centre and conduct research on trends such as digitalisation. What does that mean in terms of internationalisation?

We also need to keep evolving as a service provider. Our services have a different significance for every education sector. We will set priorities in consultation with our clients, the schools and institutions."

So how does Nuffic aim to achieve that goal?

"Nuffic must be able to constantly adapt to changing circumstances. That's also the heart of our strategy, which had just been finalised when the coronavirus crisis broke out. The importance of that message was really highlighted, and we got an opportunity to test whether we could live up to our ideals. We managed in the end, thanks to the incredible efforts of our colleagues.

It's also essential that we can serve as the linking pin between clients, the education sector and knowledge institutions in the Netherlands and abroad. We believe that cohesion between the various education sectors is crucial. Nuffic works for the entire education sector, so our activities and networks allow us to make that connection. This can help ensure curricular continuity, resulting in stronger international competences. In another example, Nuffic has gained a great deal of experience with bilingual education in the secondary education sector, and vocational education and training and higher education institutions can now benefit from that knowledge."

"Nuffic must be able to constantly adapt to changing circumstances. That's also the heart of our strategy"

Where would you like to be in five years' time?

"I hope we will have managed to help more pupils and students benefit from an international experience. We need to reach more preparatory vocational secondary schools and be even more active at VET-level. However, higher education is just as important: some pupils are currently benefiting more from internationalisation than others.

We also aim to keep contributing to peaceful international relations. We're currently working with sister organisations such as DAAD and the British Council to carry out projects commissioned by the EU, such as the HOPES programme for Syrian refugees. We think there's a lot more potential in that area. For example, we are closely involved in an ongoing collaboration between the European Union and African Union.

Internationalisation is never a goal in itself. It's a means towards several higher goals. That's what Nuffic is all about."

Fotography: Alex Schröder