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Note: Beyond The Gut-Feeling

VU International News and Reviews No. 109 March 26 2018

March 2018

We see discussions in various countries questioning the wisdom of offering more and more higher education degree programmes in English and actively attracting international students to these programmes.

“Aren’t these international students occupying study places that should be available for our own students? Stop selecting (=rejecting) our own students!”

“Teaching and learning in English instead of our mother tongue is lowering the quality of education – and destroying our culture!”

“These international students are being taught at the expense of our taxpayers’ money. And the universities only want international students to make money on them.” (Isn’t this a contradiction in terms?)

These questions are valid because they give vent to real feelings – but not because they are based on the available data.

Students analytics still needs a lot of improvement, but the data we have indicate that international students perform better on average than domestic students and that they have a positive impact on the performance of domestic students.

Universities – at least in the Netherlands – need to prove that they don’t use taxpayers’ money for non-EU students and charge tuition fees that cover the costs but don’t earn them profits.

The soft skills that employers are crying out for – as specialised knowledge quickly becomes obsolete in the workplace – is particularly strongly developed in international and intercultural classrooms.

All these arguments are well-known, supported by data and often articulated.

One argument seems to be missing:

International students help widen the available HE programmes for domestic students! Without international students, many Master’s and Bachelor’s programmes now offered in English, would not be offered at all. Simply because the number of domestic applicants would be too low to run the programme on the taxpayers’ money provided – per domestic student.

Let’s continue to strengthen the evidence base for the impact of international classrooms on the learning outcomes of domestic and international students. Let’s go beyond the gut-feeling.

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