Learning to start anew
“When I was a visiting student at Berkeley. I once explored whythe Netherlands are lagging behind other European countries inattracting foreign talent. I cited the following numbers from theNuffic ‘Mobility Statistics’ of 2008.
Foreign students as a percentage of the total student populationin…
EU average: 7.2%
The most recent numbers are the following:
EU average: 8.0%
The Netherlands are certainly not lagging behind in terms ofsupply: it offers over 1,000 educational programs taught inEnglish, twice the amount of any country in Europe other thanBritain. I suggest that part of the explanation why the Netherlandsfails to attract foreign talent is the cost of tuition in theNetherlands, which is among the highest in Europe.
For Chinese students, Indians, and other non-EU citizens inparticular, tuition fees at some universities surpass that of theirAmerican counterparts-e.g., the University of Amsterdam chargesbetween 9,000 and 25,000 Euros for its various programs. MaastrichtUniversity charges Saudi-pre med students a whopping 32,000Euros.
Another part of the explanation may be due to our strictimmigration policies. But a large part, I believe, is cultural. Iwrote about this in ScienceGuide during my first stay inBerkeley:
“What, I think, stands out is the ease by which I havesettled here in Berkeley. Not through the help of some’internationalization’ agency or the warm guidance of a ‘foreignstudent councilor.’ The ease by which I have settled comes simplyfrom the fact that everyone seems to accept my presence as anatural fact. One of my clearest memories is that of a mothercrying, long and intense, as she was struggling to say goodbye toher son, who was about to start his studies here at Berkeley. AnAmerican mother, I should add, of an American student. It was thissight that made me realize I am not alone here.
There are very few local students here; undergraduate andgraduate students alike come to study at Berkeley from all overcountry. And while a Dutch student at the University of Amsterdammight still spend most of his time with his Amersfoort friends, oreven travel to Middelburg over the weekend to visit his parents(and do his laundry), there is no way a Berkeley student wouldstill hang out regularly with his friends in Wisconsin, Madison,Miami, Florida or New York City, New York. The logical consequenceis that it is less of a challenge to ‘build up a new life’ wheneveryone around you is doing the same thing.”
Opening up closed networks
Starting anew is rooted in U.S. culture and is an importantingredient of an American student’s college experience. It is notso of the Dutch. But that can change. Whether such change can beaccommodated may prove vital in the development of both Dutch’export’ to top universities all over the world, and the ability ofthe Netherlands to attract the best and brightest from abroad.
Professor James Kennedy (UvA) described filling a vacancy inDutch Academia as a process of finding the most collegiatecandidate within one’s network of contacts. A positive way toreframe this is to say that Dutch academics are very much concernedwith teamwork, and look for candidates to express qualities in linewith their expectations. Whatever way you phrase it, however, thispreoccupation values qualities in candidates other than those ofacademic merit, and favors the familiar over the foreign andunfamiliar.
That same process, ironically, also penalizes returning Dutchscholars for having left ’the network’ instead of being rewardedfor their experiences abroad. Whether this accounts holds true orrests on exaggeration, its consequences are very real: even theperception of a closed network is enough to deter talent.Transparency in hiring procedures and vacancies postings are calledfor. Tenure tracks are well-advised, as are regular, consistent andconsequential teaching and research evaluations. As former U.S.Ambassador Cynthia Schneider, now a Professor at GeorgetownUniversity, reminds us the disgraceful underrepresentation of(Dutch) women among the higher rungs of academia shows we stillhave a long way to go.”
Jonathan J.B. Mijs
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