Changing perspective as an international
Action groups all around the country are protesting budget cuts in higher education. While it may initially seem like a mainly Dutch struggle, quite a few international students have something to say on the matter.
The Dutch education system has been going through quite some changes in recent years and not everybody is happy with that, especially those directly involved – the students and teachers. The past year has seen some action on behalf of many organisations such as #WOinactie, that is against budget cuts to universities on a national level and Changing Perspective – an activist group here in Nijmegen.
Students on the whole agree that there is a problem with the ever-increasing commercialisation of universities. Klaus Asbjørn Madsen, a Danish Master’s student and a member of Changing Perspective, says: ‘This new public management idea – run everything like a business – doesn’t make sense when applied to a university. In this business model the client is the state, but the students seem to be irrelevant?’
Still going strong
Others share that sentiment. Steffen Kling, another Changing Perspective member and Biochemistry student, sees an imminent danger in applying market strategies to education and urges to act now, while the quality of education is still high:‘If we look around us, the university is still going strong, but they are focusing on the wrong things. They are expanding and building, but they are not focusing on delivering the highest standard of education for everybody.’
‘It is no longer about broadening your knowledge horizon.’
Some faculties suffer more than others as the allocation of resources is usually based on the prestigiousness of the programme. Therefore the Science, Law and Management faculties experience less problems stemming from nationwide budget cuts. Teun Berentsen, a second-year Arts and Culture student, bitterly remarks that everything is oriented towards money and earnings: ‘It is no longer about broadening your knowledge horizon or developing yourself as a human being like in ‘the old days’ where the faculties of arts and philosophy were the core pillars of the university.’
But while there is an evident lack of funding, the number of students keeps growing with a larger portion of internationals every year. This creates an array of problems both for incoming students and staff members. A large number of students confirms that the housing shortage is creating a crisis situation at one point or another during their studies.
‘Many internationals are forced to stay in hotels, at friends places, essentially being homeless during their studies’. Dahala Gabaake, a student from Botswana, recalls her experience of having no housing for a few months.
And housing isn’t the only issue that stems from an influx of students coming to a university that cannot sustain them. The professors suffer from a higher amount of students in each course, resulting in a higher workload, lack of time to properly engage in the material and eventually a loss of interest from both the teachers and the students.
There needs to be a collaboration between the Dutch and the internationals.
Moreover, budget cuts affect the amount of full-time positions the university can offer, so more and more good teachers leave and the ones that stay are drowned in the teaching and research they still inevitably have to deliver, something a number of students from the Arts faculty attested to. Even students from the Science faculty acknowledge that the system is harsh on teachers as well as students and that it is important to collaborate with the teachers to make education better and more accessible.
As well as a collaboration between students and teachers, many agree that there needs to be one between the Dutch and the internationals. Madsen noted that to him, the Dutch can seem a little more disengaged from university politics than students in other countries and Kling explains this discrepancy by the high living standards in the Netherlands and general conformism and contentedness in the society as a result. However, at least in Nijmegen there is a growing alternative scene and many Dutch students are joining the ‘opposition’ on both local and national levels. There is some uncertainty in future role of internationals in the battle for better education as it takes time to make change on a policy level and some internationals simply won’t be there to see it.