Science - November 1, 2007

VHL is step up to university for Chinese

Van Hall Larenstein (VHL) started the 2+2 programme for students from Beijing and Kunming five years ago. The coordinator of the programme, Jos Leeters, has begun an assessment of the results so far. Thirty percent of the nearly two hundred graduates have found work in China, while seventy percent are continuing their studies.

The Chinese students do the first two years of their education at local agricultural universities and then complete their bachelor’s degree in the Netherlands. The programmes involved are International Horticulture and Marketing (IHM) and International Agri-Business and Trade (IAT) in Wageningen, and Land and Water Management in Velp. So far about 250 2+2 students have started, of whom 196 have now graduated.

‘The way we study is very different for the students. The degree programmes at VHL are very practically oriented, with lots of work placements. And Dutch culture is very different as well. During the first two years in China, we pay a lot of attention to this,’ explains Jos Leeters, an IHM lecturer. As coordinator of the 2+2-programme, Leeters is closely involved in the cooperation with Beijing and Kunming. As a result of the close cooperation, the students are better prepared for the Dutch education system. Teachers from Van Hall Larenstein give guest lectures at the Chinese agricultural universities and the students have already done one work placement in China before they come to the Netherlands.

Nevertheless, in the first couple of years almost twenty percent of the students dropped out. Leeters: ‘At the start our language requirements were too low, so the English of some students was not good enough. Now we’ve raised the entrance requirements and the dropout rate is very low. In the last few years we’ve invested a lot in the quality of the programme, better preparation and increasing the relevance of the programme to the labour market. The people who graduated recently find a job more quickly than the earlier graduates.’

The students from Beijing tend to want to continue studying after getting their bachelor’s degree. According to the VHL assessment, of the 175 graduates about three-quarters have continued, most of them at Wageningen University. About a quarter started work immediately. ‘One graduate has got a job at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. He’ll be in charge of food safety for the catering,’ says Leeters.

That the majority of the Beijing students continue for a master's degree after VHL, Leeters regards as a positive sign. ‘Although the VHL programme is primarily a job-oriented course, for Chinese students it is a way to realise their ambition of studying further. This is not so much the case for Dutch students.’

The situation for the much smaller group of 21 graduates from Kunming is also different. A few are continuing their studies in China and a couple are doing so at Wageningen University. Fifteen of them, however, already have jobs with Dutch flower and ornamental plant companies working in Yunan, the province where Kunming is located. ‘To me that’s proof that the 2+2 programme is meeting a demand. These companies are crying out for this kind of people. But of course there’s always room for improvement. At the moment we are evaluating whether the alumni meet their requirements and where we can improve,' continues Leeters.

Guo ‘Alyssa’ Yanchun finished her IHM course in Wageningen in 2004 and now works as a manager in China for the Dutch flower-food producer Chrysal. In mid October she was in the Netherlands to visit the Horti Fair in Amsterdam. In the meantime she has also finished the IAT course, so she now has two bachelor’s degrees. It is difficult for Chinese students to keep up in the Dutch system? Alyssa: ‘It depends on how good they are at adapting. For me it was a good experience. You get a different perspective on things. People who have studied abroad have more to offer than those who have only studied in China.’