Dutch students and their foreign counterparts often lead completely separate lives. Mentoring programmes have little to no effect. Brief encounters don’t evolve into long-lasting friendships. And if they do, these are mostly friendships between the foreign students themselves.
Many research universities and universities of applied sciences make every effort to welcome foreign students and ensure they get acquainted with their new home away from home. Research by the Dutch National Union of Students (LSVb), however, shows that despite all good intentions there is still ample room for improvement. For example, as part of the intro week, foreign newcomers are teamed up with other foreign students, and mentoring programmes often merely consist of a number of fleeting get-togethers.
Paid to help settle in
What’s more, policy is highly fragmented. Some faculties have their own programmes in place, whereas others don’t do anything at all. In some cities the European Student Network (ESN) will organise a number of social events, but not in all. Some Dutch students are paid to help foreign counterparts settle in and give them information on all kinds of practical matters, while in other places the main focus is on joint activities.
According to the LSVb, this latter approach is the most effective in terms of integration. Doing fun things together seems to be a more solid basis for friendship than arranging all kinds of practical matters together. And those friendships are not only beneficial to the foreign students: “A lot of Dutch students would really enjoy closer contact with foreigners”, chairperson Jorien Janssen tells us. ‘A Mexican student may help you brush up on your Spanish, and a Chinese student may be able to tell you more about business in Asia.’
More money should be available
These activities, however, often come at a price. For some students the costs involved form a barrier that prevents them from participating. In other words, more money should be made available. Janssen: ‘The Ministry of Education, universities of applied sciences and research universities have expressed a commitment to forge strong ties between foreign students and the Netherlands. You would expect there to be some money available for this purpose.’
The LSVb will shortly be doing its bit by participating in a Buddy coordinator day. Janssen: ‘This day is mainly intended for coordinators. It will give them the opportunity to share experiences so that together they can offer successful programmes and improve overall integration.’
A positive effect of 740 million euros
The government’s aim is to have foreign students integrate properly so that they will decide to stay here to work. Research shows that 64 per cent of international master’s students would like to do so, but in practice, a much smaller percentage actually stays: the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis mentions a conservative estimate of nineteen per cent. On an annual basis, this nevertheless has a positive effect on the Dutch economy of 740 million euros.
This is why, last year, Minister of Education Bussemaker took the lead and launched a multi-year action plan entitled ‘Make it in the Netherlands’. One of the aims of the action plan is ‘breaking the bubble’, an aim intended to put an end to the two different worlds in which Dutch and foreign students live. Earlier research by the LSVb has, after all, shown that foreign and Dutch students hardly ever strike up friendships.
The Buddy coordinator day will be held in Eindhoven on 17 March. The event is organised by the LSVb in cooperation with ESN, Nuffic, TU Eindhoven and Maastricht University.