‘Internationalise universities, but preserve European values’
European higher education may benefit from becoming even more international, but universities should protect European values such as participation and freedom of thought. This was the position taken by European Commissioner Navracsics on 10 November in a debate with Minister Bussemaker and students at Campus The Hague.
Extending your boundaries, literally and figuratively. How do you do that? This was the topic of the educational debate with students in the Campus The Hague atrium. Tibor Navracsics wants open and interactive higher education in Europe, in which large numbers of students and researchers are stimulated to cross European borders. ‘This is important if we want to understand each other better within Europe.’ If it was up to him, the area would be even larger: all of Eurasia would offer options for study or work, if only temporary ones.
At the same time, Navracsics did indicate that the education systems in Asia are still so different that it will be difficult to find ways to link them to the European systems. And when a student asked him about the consequences of internationalisation, the European Commissioner emphasised that internationalisation does not mean we should squander our European values. ‘The university is a European invention with European values such as participation and freedom of thought. These values form the foundation of our universities. It is our job to cherish and protect them.’
The Netherlands' six-month presidency of the EU
The European Commissioner for Education was in The Hague to make agreements with Minister Bussemaker about the EU presidency that the Netherlands will hold for six months starting in January 2016. The Netherlands is keen to actively involve its citizens and social organisations in policy making. The education debate, organised in collaboration with student organisations ISO and LSVB, offered a foretaste of this approach.
Panel member Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Rector of Leiden University, emphasised the importance of training students to become critical citizens who formulate solutions to global problems such as climate change and war. New forms of education such as online courses play an increasingly vital role in this respect by making it possible to quickly spread essential knowledge across the world. ‘But this does not mean that there will be no physical campuses anymore,’ Buitendijk informed the students present in the atrium.
A number of students asked questions about the at times faltering transition from bachelor’s to master’s programme. Helene, student representative of all Dutch University Colleges, remarked that Dutch master’s programmes are becoming increasingly specialised, which makes it more difficult, after a broad bachelor’s programme, to choose an appropriate master’s. Bussemaker recognised the problem, but pointed to the importance of differentiation in education and true specialisation at master’s level.
A student from a university of applied sciences (HBO) posed the problem of HBO graduates: they are not automatically granted admission to research university level master’s programmes. Susana Menéndez, Administrator at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, is keenly aware of this problem: ‘I’ve got students who are granted admission to Oxford, but not to a Dutch university.’ Bussemaker: ‘We are working on simplifying access to master’s programmes.’
The government representatives emphasised the importance of learning essential skills such as collaboration and digital know-how. ‘When should we start to learn these skills?’ asked a student. Navracsics: ‘According to some studies, in kindergarten, and you should never stop learning.’ A student from an Amsterdam university of applied sciences admitted after the debate that he would like nothing better than to keep on learning. ‘But how do you finance your lifelong learning without rich parents or a well-paid job?’ That’s a question he would still like to ask the Minister.
(12 November 2015)