Some ten years ago, European educational institutions perceived China as the promised land. Large groups of Chinese students flocked to places such as the Avans School of International Studies (ASIS) in Breda. This year, ASIS only has four first-year Chinese students. Having said that, the number of students from countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Romania and Bulgaria, is drastically increasing. Has Avans developed a more casual attitude toward China, or are Chinese students simply no longer interested?
‘There are two contributory factors to fewer Chinese students attending ASIS’, dean of Avans School of International Studies Nies Rijnders explains. ‘First of all there is the language barrier. A good command of the English language ranks high on our list of priorities. Students must complete all course components to at least a pass grade. Many Chinese students are struggling to achieve this level. Ten years ago, the performance level of Chinese students was higher. Another important point is that Chinese students are less eager to study abroad. The Chinese government is investing a great deal of money in education, and the standard of Chinese university education is improving. More and more Chinese students find it convenient to receive higher education in their own country, so why come to the Netherlands?’
Nevertheless, China remains one of the countries with which Avans has established close relations and cooperation. Chairman of the board Paul Rüpp: ‘We have deliberately opted not to simply try and recruit as many students as possible, but to focus on specific countries with a view to possible collaboration based on particular themes’. In this respect the most suitable countries are the so-called BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. For example, collaboration between Avans and companies and universities in Brazil involving the bio-based economy, has already reached an advanced stage. Another important consideration when seeking cooperation with foreign parties is safety.
‘In all our efforts we must never lose sight of the quality of the collaboration. Take Russia for instance. We’re going to try and strengthen ties with Moscow University and explore possibilities in St Petersburg. At the same time, we are discontinuing cooperation with another remote Russian university in eastern Russia. This just isn’t a good location for our students. You should always ask yourself ‘Would I let my own child go there?’, Rüpp adds.
Latin American Business Studies
In September 2014 ASIS will be starting its new major in Latin American Business Studies to capitalise on the emergence of the Latin American continent as a major economic player. ‘The aim of ASIS is to prepare students for careers in the international market, and Latin America is part of that market’, Dean Rijnders explains. He does not expect the new major to cannibalise the Asian Business Studies major. ‘To my mind this approach will increase our options. Most students are currently opting for International Business Studies because they don’t want to merely focus on Asia. As of next year, we will be able to offer an additional option.’
The academy already has access to the necessary expertise on Latin America. ‘What you need is people with experience in doing business with South America. Specific knowledge on culture and business practices is crucial. Not only between Latin America and Europe, but also between the Latin American states themselves, cultural differences are huge.’
‘Comparing ourselves to Harvard would be taking it too far, but Avans’ position as best university of applied sciences in the Netherlands is a unique selling point’
Rijnders will shortly be going to a conference of Latin American states that will also be attended by university staff from Mexico, Argentina and Chile. Here the dean hopes to establish new contacts on the basis of Avans’ strong reputation. ‘People are inclined to regard winners as reliable collaboration partners. Comparing ourselves to Harvard would be taking it too far, but Avans’ position as best university of applied sciences in the Netherlands is a unique selling point.’ ASIS in turn will not join forces with just any foreign university. ‘Weak schools don’t stand a chance.’ According to Rijnders, Latin America has a very positive attitude toward collaboration with Europe. ‘When you get there you immediately notice that people are very open. Internationalisation is high on the agenda.’
A little closer to home, Rijnders thinks Germany is still the biggest player around. ‘Germany is our neighbour and a powerful economic force. A country whose potential deserves continued recognition.’ Every year a group of German students joins Avans, but the group of Eastern European students joining is growing far more rapidly.
‘Last year we struck up a collaboration with an agent in Eastern Europe. In addition, some former NHTV students used their own company to promote Breda. As a result, more students are now attending Avans from countries such as Latvia and Bulgaria. Eligibility for certain grants (such as an Erasmus grant) has made it easier for these students to join.’ The Netherlands is, moreover, a popular study destination on account of its high-quality educational standards.
A limited recruitment budget
The influx of Eastern European students is the result of ad hoc student recruitment. ‘Avans only has a limited recruitment budget and we can’t use agents everywhere’, Rijnders explains. Every year we try and identify new opportunities. ‘Last year, for instance, we focused on British students. Tuition fees in the UK were rocketing, a circumstance that we immediately took advantage of.’
In short, ad hoc recruitment results in the rapid growth of a new group of foreign students, but in the long run Avans hopes that investment in collaboration with the BRIC countries will be even more lucrative. This collaboration will not only cover student exchanges, but also teacher exchange programmes, joint project management and applied research.
A Dutch version of this article appeared in Punt 2 which you can read here.