There’s a dark side to internationalization

Internationalization is high on the agendas of Dutch universities. But there’s a dark side to the blurring of national boundaries, politicians warn. The ‘brain drain’ from countries with lower quality of higher education may put too much pressure on higher education in the Netherlands.

With students and academics becoming increasingly ‘mobile’, national boundaries are fading. During a meeting in Gothenburg last month, the European Commission discussed its ambitious plans to establish a bureaucracy-free European universities’ network. By 2025, there will be no more administrative obstacles in the way of university partnerships, study abroad programs and scholarly exchange.

While European universities are readily strengthening their ties, Dutch politicians worry that far-reaching internationalization may be too much of a good thing. Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66), minister for Education, Culture and Science, is not in favor of the establishment of a ‘European Education Area’ by 2025. She fears that Dutch higher education will suffer.

Pressure

In an official statement on behalf of the Dutch government, Van Engelshoven writes that she fully supports existing programs that promote mobilty (such as the Erasmus+ program), but that she sees no point in the establishment of a new European universities’ network. Existing programs are sufficient to foster and strengthen partnerships between universities, Van Engelshoven argues. Creating an entirely new institutional network of European universities would be ‘undesirable’.

Rather than promoting the influx of students from countries where higher education is of lower quality than in the Netherlands, the Dutch government believes in the benefits of national educational reforms: ‘The Netherlands has an interest in reforms within poorly performing educational systems, in order to avoid imbalanced mobility with excessive pressure on our own educational facilities, ‘brain drain’ in countries of origin, and economic divergence on the long term.’

‘Truly European’ universities?

If it’s up to the European Commission, the future will bring ‘truly European universities’. It envisions an open Europe, in which ‘learning, studying and doing research would not be hampered by borders’. But according to the Dutch government, not all countries will benefit from such a scenario. In her letter, minister Van Engelshoven provides a clear warning: the European enthusiasm for internationalization should be accompanied by some caution.

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