[lg policy] Rector says internationalisation should have limits

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sat Jan 13 14:23:36 EST 2018

Rector says internationalisation should have limits

Jan Petter Myklebust12 January 2018 Issue No:488
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There are limits to how far internationalisation in higher education should
grow and it is right to set them, said Rector Magnificus of the University
of Amsterdam, Professor Karen IJ Maex, speaking at the celebration of the
university’s 368th anniversary
on 8 January.

The University of Amsterdam, or UvA, is at risk of becoming a hostage to
its own success in internationalisation, notably due to the rise in the
number of incoming students from other European countries.

Maex said that while 15% of UvA’s students now are international, the
percentage of international first-year students is close to 25% due to a
“significant increase” in new English-taught bachelor programmes.

Internationalisation is producing challenges and raising some pressing
questions, she said.

More widely, the debate about internationalisation and language policy has
provoked questions about whether every programme will soon be taught in
English, whether universities are internationalising just to make money,
whether Dutch students’ interests are being pushed aside and even whether
the command of the Dutch language is at stake, she said.

But she sought to take the debate beyond these questions, asking: “What is
the university’s role in a society that is becoming more internationalised,
and what kind of education policy and internationalisation policy is
appropriate in this context?”

*The right balance*

She said there are limits to growth and there is a need to strike the right

“With new developments it is tempting to strive for growth. The more
internationalisation, the better. What we spend too little time thinking
about is the optimal balance on three different levels: the balance between
Dutch and international students; the balance between English and Dutch in
the wider university environment; and the balance between programmes taught
in Dutch and English,” Maex said.

She said with regard to the balance between courses taught in Dutch and
those taught in English that UvA wants to have both: “First, Dutch
programmes with a touch of English. Active use of English is important for
all students. This also makes it possible for international students to
come to Amsterdam for shorter periods of time.

“We also encourage these exchanges for our own students. For example,
through the Global Exchange Ambassador Programme – a peer-to-peer programme
that pairs up students from different countries.”

“And second, we want English-taught programmes with specific learning
objectives that also pay attention to Dutch language skills for the
Dutch-speaking students. This is a curriculum that includes international
cognitive learning outcomes, cultural skills, student experience and
language proficiency.”

For disciplines with large student numbers, offering both an English and a
Dutch version is an enrichment, she said. For disciplines with smaller
numbers of students, the international character might lead to a wider

Maex said it was important to continue to teach in Dutch to fulfil UvA’s
social responsibility. “A university cannot become alienated from its
native surroundings. That has consequences.”

*Rate of inflow*

Regarding the second issue of the ratio of Dutch students to international
students, she said it should be possible to control the inflow of
international students.

A future in which 80% of the lecture hall is filled students from Germany
is “not in line with what we have in mind for an international classroom”,
she said. “It would not contribute to our goals.”

She said as rector she could not cite specific ratios for each programme.
That can depend on context. “We want to have mixed groups from different
countries and the Netherlands. That means we must have a way to steer this
process accordingly – something that is still difficult to achieve at the
moment,” Maex said.

*UvA’s international classroom*

Maex staunchly endorses internationalisation in higher education. She is
building on the ideas of Professor Dilly Fung, among others. In her
publication, *A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education*, Fung said:
“Education is not primarily about individual gain and personal benefit, but
about developing a sense of collective engagement and responsibility.
Education is not a set of technicalities, it embodies an intellectual and
ethical position.”

It is these values she wants to promote through her model of
internationalisation in “an international classroom comprising students of
different nationalities, students with a variety of backgrounds and
cultures”, Maex said.

In her conclusion she launched an action plan for “UvA’s international
classroom concept”. By 2020 she wants a significant number of UvA
programmes to include international and intercultural aspects in their
curriculum, and for these to be incorporated in teaching methods,
assessments and learning outcomes.

“In the process we must recognise and set the limits for growth in
internationalisation, to ensure that we can go on providing quality and
added value,” Maex argued.

She said the university’s policy must be adapted with requirements set for
the learning objectives of Dutch as well as of English programmes, and the
curricula adapted accordingly in a “balanced portfolio of Dutch and English

This would enable UvA to be moulded over the next decade into a “bilingual,
internationally oriented and culturally integrated university”.

Caroline Sundberg, vice-president of the European Students’ Union, said the
ESU supports Maex’s international classroom concept. “For enhanced quality
in education we need students with different backgrounds and culture in
order to not reproduce the values, research and society of today but to
draft ones of tomorrow to combat the challenges our world will face,” she

But she said the ESU does not fully accept the need to set and recognise
limits of internationalisation. “Quality is mainly compromised by the lack
of funding, not the diversity of the student population,” she said.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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