Internationalization and Europe

In an increasingly globalised world, it is important to keep sight of the international dimension of education. This is especially true for a small, open economy like the Netherlands. Traditionally, the geographic location of the Netherlands and our economic activity has made it necessary for us to have an international outlook. Knowledge of other countries and our position in the world remains as important as ever. Moreover, society is becoming more internationally diverse and the Netherlands is increasingly competing with other countries in the global market, including the global market for education. The Education Council believes that internationalisation should therefore be a self-evident part of the education process. In this section, the Education Council discusses the key points of our recommendations in this area.

 1. Strengthen proficiency in foreign languages

The ambition of Europe and the Netherlands is that at least three-quarters of young Dutch citizens should speak at least two foreign languages at the B1 level. The Education Council considers this to be extremely ambitious, but nonetheless feasible. To achieve this will require measures to be taken in primary education and senior secondary vocational education in particular. The Education Council recommends that English teaching should start earlier in primary schools. German or French could also be introduced in primary schools. Young children are able to learn foreign languages much quicker than teenagers. Primary schools could choose to start with foreign language teaching in group 1 (age 4-5) or in group 5 (age 8-9) rather than in group 7, as is presently the case. In time, reference levels should be established for English too.

For secondary education, the Education Council recommended making English part of the pass-fail scheme, alongside Dutch and arithmetic/maths. This means that pupils in senior general secondary education (HAVO) and pre-university education (VWO) could obtain no more than one score of 5 (fail) in their final examination for these subjects. This recommendation was adopted by the minister.

The Education Council also recommends making one foreign language mandatory in senior secondary vocational education. These measures would mean that the ambition of two foreign languages would be within reach for a larger part of the population, given that the highest level of education of 30% of the population is senior secondary vocational education (MBO) level 3 or 4. In time, two foreign languages should be mandatory for MBO level 4, especially because many pupils in this sector will want to progress to higher education (Foreign language teaching in schools, 2008).

2. Promote a balanced languages policy in higher education

Programme directors in the higher education sector are increasingly choosing English as the teaching medium, because of the increased mobility of students, but also due to the demands of the labour market. Higher education taught in English should have to meet additional quality requirements: teachers should have to demonstrate an appropriate level of proficiency in the language and students should be able to show that they are able to follow the programme at the required level. International students and teachers who follow a programme of study or teach in higher education in the Netherlands for more than one year should be given sufficient opportunity to learn Dutch and become familiar with Dutch culture.

The Education Council calls on institutions to develop a vision on their languages policy in order to make considered choices for the language in which programmes or modules are taught. It is important that institutions clearly communicate their considerations so that students can make better informed decisions when deciding which study programme to choose. The Education Council proposes that the quality of English-language education could be assured by making it an explicit component of the accreditation framework (A judicious use of English in higher education, 2011).

3. Strengthen the position of the Netherlands in the international education market

International mobility requires comparability of learning achievements across national borders. This has consequences for curriculum and degree coordination. The position of Dutch education in the international context could be strengthened by ensuring that examinations meet international standards. In higher education, the institutions and education systems compete with each other in international comparisons in terms of the quality of graduates. Consequently, this quality will increasingly have to be demonstrated on the basis of examinations and assessments, the reliability and validity of which are transparent and world-class.

Furthermore, the Netherlands could also regard its education system and educational services as export products. The sector could be extremely valuable for other countries. This applies, for instance, to knowledge and expertise about assessment, examination, accreditation and quality assurance (Een diploma van waarde (Diploma of value), 2010; Een Europees kwalificatiekader (A European qualification framework), 2006; Higher education fit for the future, 2011).

4. Strengthen the internationalisation and Europeanisation of educational content

Students, pupils and lecturers should have knowledge and skills that allow them to cooperate with organisations and live alongside citizens in other countries. Increasing internationalisation means that more and more professions now require a flexible attitude towards other cultures. The Education Council sees a role for all education sectors in developing, evaluating, improving and structurally embedding activities with an international dimension. These may include, for example, activities focusing on other cultures, international legislation, the international economy and comparisons with other countries. In time, this could lead to the establishment of international learning pathways through the education system. In this context, the Education Council also recommended opening International Baccalaureate programmes to all Dutch pupils (this international secondary education curriculum is currently only accessible to children whose parents are internationally mobile).

Given the importance of Europe, it is also recommended that this subject be more firmly anchored into curricula and to ensure that more exchanges of pupils from various countries take place. European citizenship not only increases the international knowledge of citizens, but also enables them to form a critical opinion on European issues (International learning routes and the international baccalaureate, 2006; Een zoektocht naar Europees burgerschap (A search for European citizenship), 2002; Social disadvantage in the future, 2011).