Number of Dutch MSc students on the increase
The WAU has offered Master of Science programmes to foreign students for many years now. The number of programmes has increased over the years and the number of students continues to climb. Initially MSc education was aimed solely at students from developing countries, and dealt almost exclusively with development issues. Gradually, however, more and more European and American students were attracted to the courses.
Now a growing number of Dutch students are also following the courses. In the Biotechnology programme, for example, there are seven Dutch students and ten foreigners. Last year, in the Management of Agricultural Knowledge Systems (MAKS) programme, eleven out of 25 students were Dutch.
Students give various reasons for choosing the English option, but most see it as an alternative to the doorstroomprogramma, whereby students with the equivalent of a bachelor's degree from a technical college can continue at university level for the Dutch equivalent of a master's degree. Regina ten Bruggencate will graduate in a few months from the Animal Science and Aquaculture programme. She came from the Agricultural College in Deventer: I could have followed the regular doorstroomprogramma, but I really enjoy being in a class with students who have so much experience. Most of my fellow students have already worked, and contribute a lot with the experience gained in their own countries. I think this will stand me in good stead after I have finished studying." According to the programme director Dr H.J.M. Udo, this is the most frequently cited reason for following an MSc programme, and only a handful choose the English language option because it is six
months shorter than the doorstroomprogramma.
There are many students on the MAKS course who already have a number of years work experience. Rob Duys graduated last year: After eight years abroad you start to wonder about development aid and how it could be improved. In Cameroon I saw a leaflet about the course and decided it was what I was looking for. I was not interested in following a full four-year course again. This course offered a degree and matched my interests exactly. Although I was not aware of it before I started the course I have found it very advantageous to be able to exchange ideas with people from all over the world. That makes the course far less superficial than it otherwise might be."
The various programme directors all have their own opinion on the ideal number of Dutch students. MAKS programme director M.Bloemberg considers 11 out of 25 the maximum desirable. We do a lot of group work in our programme. It is sometimes handy if there are Dutch students around to get discussions going or to help with organising activities. On the other hand, we try not to have too many students from one country in the same group, as it tends to result in too much attention for the one nationality at the expense of the others in the group."
Dr W.J.M. Heijman, programme director of Agricultural Economics and Marketing, doesn't think the numbers are so relevant. In our programme the MSc students attend nearly all lectures together with regular and doorstroom students from the university. All education is in English and is fully integrated. I am greatly in favour of total integration of education," adds Heijman.
However, in contrast to the regular courses, students are not entitled to a grant if they follow the MSc programme. Most foreign students do have a grant though. The most common way for Dutch students to get round this problem is by enroling for a Dutch language programme and an MSc course as well. By enroling for the former they receive a grant and pay regular fees. For their second study they only have to pay an additional amount of 350 guilders.
This is also an attractive option for the university, as it receives no subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture for MSc students. It does however receive a subsidy for every student enroled for regular Dutch courses. Although no party involved would admit to taking advantage of a loophole in the law, it is a practical arrangement which suits both university and students. Potential students from technical colleges are even given information on how to enrol in this way, in order to be able to claim their right to a grant.
Van den Broek from the Biotechnology programme discourages Dutch students from taking the MSc course. It's a shame if students take the course as a second option. Often they have some grant left over and want to get a degree in eighteen months. I warn them that a master's degree is not widely recognised in the Netherlands, and is worth much less than an ingenieur's degree. They should also realise that the two courses do not offer the same possibilities. The MSc programme is much more tightly scheduled, while the Dutch programmes allow for a much wider variety of combinations, which means that students can also follow subjects offered by other faculties."
According to Dean J.W.M. Hermans, experience shows that there is increasingly talk of two separate programmes. The question is not so much how many foreign and how many Dutch students are enroled for a course. We should be aiming for a situation where all students can follow the courses of their choice, and receive a good education. It follows then that we should group them together and integrate them as much as possible."