Last weekend, ten Wageningen Bachelor’s students left for China for a summer school of almost two months. They will be joining 90 other Dutch students for the Netherlands-Asia Honours Summer School (NAHSS).
The students will be going to the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Peking University, Fudan University (Shanghai) or the National Chengchi University (Taipei). The students will have lectures three days a week, plus two mornings a week for visits to companies or excursions to learn more about Chinese culture. They will also work in groups on a project for a company. All 100 Dutch students will then meet up together in Shanghai for the final 10 days of the summer school for a joint ‘business week’.
‘I’ll be taking two modules at the Chinese University of Hong Kong,’ says an enthusiastic Dennis Beemsterboer, a Management, Economics and Consumer Studies student, shortly before his departure. ‘I’ll also be working in a group of ten students from different Dutch universities on a project for FrieslandCampina, finding out how the company can best respond to the aging population in China.’ Other NAHSS students are carrying out projects for companies such as Aviko, Huawei and the Financial Dagblad newspaper or for Dutch ministries.
This year, 46 Wageningen students applied for the summer school. But there was only room for ten per university. So Wageningen University and the NAHSS organizers had quite a lot to choose from and our relatively small university is now sending the biggest delegation of students. The popularity of this summer school among Wageningen students is undoubtedly partly due to the many food companies involved in the scheme, the business focus and the fact that China is booming at the moment. Wageningen University’s decision to bear all the costs also helps: participation is free for the students.
‘That originated in an error,’ explains Ingrid Hijman from Wageningen University’s Education Institute. ‘Last year, when eight Wageningen students took part in the summer school, we understood the NAHSS to say that the university had to pay 1000 euros per student. We told the students then that it would be free for them. Later it turned out that the students themselves also had to pay about 1000 euros. The university decided to take on those costs itself.’ The university could still have asked this year’s students for a contribution but it deliberately decided not to do that, says Hijman. ‘That’s because the evaluations last year showed that this summer school was very valuable for both the students and the university. That’s why we want to keep participation accessible. But we will continue to assess critically whether the investment is worth it. I want to see results.’ Agreements have been made in advance with the participants on how they should make use of their experience in China for the benefit of Wageningen. Hijman: ‘For example, one person might provide guidance to Chinese students in Wageningen while someone else might make a fi lm that we could use as a university.’
Thom van Stralen, who took part last year, confirms that the summer school was an unforgettable and educational experience. ‘I’d already travelled a lot but two months in China really showed me a different side of things. I knew everything there is on a different scale, but now I saw it with my own eyes. In the Netherlands, companies such as Unilever or Philips set up a production line for the country as a whole; there, they do it for a single city. You also see how strong the state is. That has and disadvantages but it has advantages too. For example, there are now 300 million fewer Chinese living in extreme poverty compared with 1990. One of the global millennium goals has now been achieved thanks to the efforts of China, because it’s so huge.’ Thom also learnt a lot from the modules he took at Peking University on Chinese society’s core values and their corporate culture.
The NAHSS was established in 2012 by the universities of Utrecht and Delft, the consultancy firm McKinsey and the chemical company AkzoNobel. The aim was to bring young people in the Netherlands into contact with Chinese society and business culture. These students can then function as a link between the business communities in the two countries. There is plenty of interest from students, not just in Wageningen. All Dutch universities and a whole series of companies have now joined the NAHSS.