THE international classroom does not exist

What does the international classroom look like? This question was investigated by Irene Poort of the University of Groningen. An important conclusion is that THE international classroom does not exist. But there are four important ingredients you can use to shape it.

Irene Poort presented the results of her study on May 24 in Utrecht during a Nuffic Connects meeting, where 30 education professionals from various universities and colleges discussed the international classroom. How and what can it be used for in Dutch higher education? What are the learning benefits? And what does the future look like in the context of political developments?

The added value of the international classroom

“It is important to demonstrate the added value of the international classroom, especially in these times" says Poort. "Politics have changed and Dutch education is struggling with issues such as housing and facilitating student learning” (both international and Dutch students).

She conducted her research "The International classroom: what, what for and how?" together with Grada Okken (NHL Stenden). In this study, they looked at the question of what the international classroom looks like. And how exactly does it contribute to the development of international competencies in students? For the study, Poort spoke with 13 people in higher education, examined documents and websites from 16 Dutch research universities and universities of applied sciences, four projects and four organisations, including the Netherlands central Government and Nuffic.

The study also lists the learning outcomes that Dutch research universities and universities of applied sciences assign to the international classroom. Besides international competences and world citizenship, these learning outcomes include more specific skills, such as communication skills, collaboration skills, inclusive thinking, openness, critical thinking, and (English) language skills.

"The international classroom exists in different forms"

Conclusion: THE international classroom does not exist. It can have different forms. From a physical classroom with students of different nationalities, activities under the banner of Internationalisation at Home to an educational approach in which diversity is actively used.

Four ingredients

Poort and Okken further identified four key ingredients for intercultural learning in the international classroom: interaction and dialogue with fellow students with a different cultural background; reflection on, for example, cultural learning and one's own beliefs; facilitation of the learning process by teachers; and connection to "real life" through the use of learning activities that are participatory and experiential.

"These four ingredients can be a good checklist for the design of learning activities and projects around international competences as well as diversity," Poort states. In doing so, she recommends that educational institutions and teachers give students enough time to interact and reflect.”

"It is only then that students will experience the added value of the international classroom. Society is becoming increasingly diverse. Study time is a mini version of that. The international classroom helps you to prepare for that diverse world into which you will enter after your studies."

"It helps students have more respect and openness toward each other. Try to understand what others have to say. Don't give your opinion right away. Be willing to adjust your own opinion."


All sorts of ideas emerged from the discussions at the meeting in Utrecht. For example, why are there still often separate introduction weeks for Dutch and international students? Or: facilitating the international classroom should be done at different levels.

In the classroom, for example, the lecturer must ensure that everyone feels safe. At the administrative level, on the other hand, there needs to be more awareness of the skills teachers need to do this.

Participants then engaged with a panel to discuss the future of the international classroom. Most participants agreed that the Internationalisation in Balance bill has negative consequences.

Lecturer in Global Studies (Maastricht University), and senior researcher (Zuyd University of Applied Sciences) Joris Boonen sees consequences especially for educational programs that examine societal challenges from different cultural perspectives. These programmes, such as Global Studies, will lose significant quality if those different perspectives are no longer represented in classrooms.

Professor of Educational Sciences Joana da Silveira Duarte (University of Groningen, and professor by special appointment of Global Citizenship and Bilingual Education at the University of Amsterdam until March 2024) thinks the negative impact of the bill varies by higher education institution. However, the bill may come at the expense of soft skills, such as empathy and critical thinking.

"Foreign students are of added value to the Netherlands"

According to Annika Trappe, president of the Erasmus Student Network Netherlands, the bill is not in line with what the Erasmus Student Network stands for and believes in. "Foreign students are of added value to the Netherlands," Trappe said.

"However, we should also work to better integrate foreign students by giving them the opportunity to learn Dutch and build a Dutch network. This can not only further encourage them to stay in the Netherlands after their studies, but can also prepare them for the Dutch job market."

Read more?

  • The study The International classroom: what, what for and how? can be found on the NRO website (in Dutch)
  • The deployment and utilisation of diversity in your education, both the design and facilitation of it, with the aim of achieving international and intercultural learning goals for all students (Ambagts-van Rooijen, Beelen, & Coelen, 2024), is in line with the thinking of Internationalisation at Home. If you want to know more about this, check out the Nuffic thematic webpage Internationalisation at Home (in Dutch).