The Netherlands is a small country but its flat landscape offers wide, expansive vistas. Can the same be said of the country's intellectual life? Is the Netherlands a good destination for someone wishing to study abroad? Is it a good place to gain international experience?
Dutch higher education institutions aims at international audience
Certain facts speak for themselves. Altogether, the Dutch higher education institutions offer more than 1500 study programmes and courses conducted in English and aimed at an international audience. In 2001, parliament adopted a law that is making it possible for the institutions to replace the traditional, uniquely Dutch system of degrees and titles with the more internationally familiar bachelor'-master's model. Each institution is now working hard to introduce the change as soon as possible. Sooner or later institutions throughout the European Union will be doing the same, but for the present the Netherlands is a frontrunner. But is this the only reason for choosing the Netherlands? No, there are more.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Netherlands founded its first universities, the entire intelligentsia of Europe had its books printed in the Netherlands because ideas could be expressed here so freely. The current spirit of Dutch higher education rests on this foundation of academic freedom. But the Dutch have always been practical, and freedom must also lead to results. If the Netherlands is to maintain its high standard of living, it must continue to operate at the forefront of science and technology.
The country today has 85 higher education institutions that together enroll approximately 455,000 students. Each year more than 80,000 of these students graduate and join the workforce.
A cosmopolitan atmosphere characterizes Dutch society. Newsstands sell newspapers and magazines from all over the world. The Netherlands imports more books from the United States and Britain than any other non-English-speaking country.
Nearly all Dutch people speak English and usually one or more other foreign languages. University libraries build up their huge collections with acquisitions from all over the world. A glance through any of their catalogues tells you that you indeed have access to an international repository of ideas.
Cosmopolitan higher education
Against this cosmopolitan background, it is not surprising that the Netherlands' higher education institutions conduct more than 1,600 of their study programmes in English for the benefit of international students. No other non-English-speaking country in the world offers such a large and varied range of possibilities. The online database of "International Study Programmes and Courses offered in the Netherlands" represents the entire spectrum of knowledge and skills-from civil engineering to music, and from agricultural sciences to communication studies.
Many of the study programmes lead to master's degrees, but the pursuit of a PhD is also possible, and programmes are offered at bachelor's level. In addition, there are many highly specialized short courses that fall outside the system of degrees. But in all of these international programmes and courses, the fact that students come from all over the world is taken into account. In terms of content, the curriculum is presented not just in a Dutch context but in a global context.
An important feature of Dutch higher education offers another advantage for international students. Students in the Netherlands learn to develop their own views and to apply their own creativity. Practicals, project work, and the writing of papers-usually on a topic of one's own choosing-are important elements in all curricula. Students can choose topics that are relevant to their own countries and their own careers.
Quality of higher education
Dutch higher education is at the high level you would expect, given this background. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science helps ensure this through a system of peer review which enlists independent experts-often from abroad as well as from home-to make periodic assessments of each programme of study. These reports are made public and discussed in the media, making them an effective system of quality control. If the findings are not what they should be, the Minister does not hesitate to intervene.
In relation to what students get, fees are modest. There are two reasons for this. First is the fact that the Netherlands over the last 30 years has chosen to compete in terms of price as well as quality. The 'social partners'-government, trade unions, and employers' associations-have agreed that wage moderation is in everyone's interest.
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