Speech Thom de Graaf voor Sino-Dutch Higher Education Forum, RDM-campus25 juni 2012
Maandag 25 juni bezocht een delegatie van 32 Chinese instellingen de RDM campus in Rotterdam voor het Sino Dutch Higher Education Forum. Thom de Graaf, voorzitter HBO-raad, was een van de sprekers.
Toespraak 'Working Knowledge'
Madam Chair, mister Secretary-General, ladies and gentlemen,
Nimen hāo! Huān yíng zaì Hélán.
(Goedendag en welkom in Nederland)
Allow me to say what an honour and privilege it is to address you this morning. It is certainly not every day that I meet such a huge and high-profile delegation from China.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Thom de Graaf, President of the 'Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences'. Since the beginning of 2012 I have taken on this position and I feel privileged to represent the 38 Dutch Universities of Applied Sciences. I would like to share with you what in my opinion China and the Netherlands have in common and where we can strengthen the cooperation in the field of profession-oriented higher education.
"The foundation of every state is the education of its youth", said the Greek philosopher Laertius about 2300 years ago. A well-known Chinese saying puts it like this: "If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people." Whether you are in the East or West, what we have in common is the recognition that education is the fundament of our societies. It is our mission together to build that fundament.
Let me first explain our Dutch Higher Education system. Two types of higher education programmes are in existence:
- Firstly Profession-oriented higher education degree programmes offered by Universities of Applied Sciences.
- And secondly research-oriented degree programmes offered by research universities among which worldwide famous universities like Wageningen University and Delft University of Technology. The Universities of Applied Sciences and Research Universities work closely together and make up the higher education sector in The Netherlands.
Profession-Oriented Higher Education in The Netherlands consists of
various programmes that are provided by Universities of Applied sciences in various shapes and sizes. Some institutions are relatively small and have a specific thematic focus. Examples are art and design, music and dramatic arts, agriculture or a teacher training programme. Other institutions however, have a more general profile and focus on a broader field like economics, business administration and social work and health.
The most important added value provided by the Universities of Applied Sciences, is their close alignment to the professional practice. They traditionally have close ties with the public and private sector. Actually, many Universities of Applied Sciences were founded by the business sector. Profession-Oriented Higher Education in The Netherlands is given by professors, who have either worked within their tuition discipline or are still doing so. Representatives from the educational institutions and regional enterprises and social institutions work together to ensure the relevance of the curricula of our universities.
Just to give you a scope of the sizes of our Universities of Applied Sciences. Last year's number of registrations has been around 425.000 students. That is about twice as much as the amount of students at our research universities. The Netherlands are a country which is economically depending on export and international trade.
The Dutch Higher Education is therefore characterized by the outstanding programmes taught in English. In total there are more than 1.500 English-spoken programmes; that is the highest number in the world for a non-native English speaking country! About 5.000 Chinese students benefitted from these possibilities last year. With that number, China is, after Germany, the second largest contributor of foreign students after Germany. On the other hand, only a small number of Dutch students currently study in China. As I understand bringing this number more in balance is one of the main topics of this conference.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Dutch Universities of Applied Sciences want to be good in what they are doing. We think we are in many aspects:
Once graduated, 88% our students find a job directly after their graduation. Even despite the European economic crisis, our graduates experienced last year a decrease in the percentage of unemployment. Also, at the same time the average wage per hour for a higher professional starter increased. In general, two thirds of our students indicate to be positive or very positive about their education.
Research at the Universities of Applied Sciences is a relatively new phenomenon. The research we do matches the character of our schools; it is geared towards a professional implementation oriented on the professional practice and on valorization. Important for you to know, is that Research Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences do not compete with each together, but –instead- seek cooperation. Fundamental research and knowledge, theoretical formulation, and application research are steps in bringing knowledge and innovation to our society. They are certainly not separate islands.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The key behind this success is simple: working knowledge.
All our curricula are already put in practice during the students' study. Students literally do their assignments at the 'working floor'. An example of this are the internships and applied research assignments. We seek close cooperation and relations with 'especially' small & medium enterprises and with the public sector. Our schools work together in applied research programmes. This is a winning situation for all parties involved. Research is embedded in a clear professional context and the transfer of knowledge is as direct as can be.
The Universities of Applied Sciences provide the commercial sector with staff and student support, comprehensive applied knowledge and research equipment. The enterprises (firms) on their turn invest in the education of our students by providing them with a 'living lab' or (to put it differently) the 'workplace as a lab'. The RDM campus, where we are today, is a perfect example of such a 'living lab' and of what I would call 'working knowledge'. All relevant partners together at one place.
The World Bank (2011) indicated the problem as follows: [I quote] "the quantity of higher education graduates is still too low for the labour market in countries like Cambodia, China, and Vietnam. Higher education today does not sufficiently provide its graduates with the skills that firms need to increase their productivity. Greater efforts have to be made not only to produce more graduates, but also to give students the tools needed to create innovation in their economies". [unquote]
I am confident that I speak for all the Dutch Universities of Applied Sciences when I say that we would be more than willing to support China in making your Higher Education geared towards the new demands from your societies and businesses. We can learn from you and you can learn from us. How can we build a bridge between The Netherlands and China in the field of higher education? How can we integrate cultural aspects in our curricula, so we can really understand each other? A language of working knowledge.
Let's try to translate these good intentions into reality Let me share my thoughts on this.
- First, The Netherlands and China should invest in long-term sustainable cooperation. Knowledge exchange and sharing best practices should be more openly discussed and facilitated between our two countries.
- Secondly, knowledge does not work when we do not interact with each other. Therefore, we need to organise exchanges on teacher, researcher, student, AND 'even' management level. It is important for the future of our education systems to learn from each other.., either face-to-face or via online platforms. Let's look into the possibilities of double degrees, joint programmes, internship programmes within Dutch and Chinese companies, and alumni networks.
- Thirdly, let's investigate the possibilities to conduct applied research together. The only way is to have researchers from China and the Netherlands doing research together, exchange and share their professional and scientific skills. In this way applied research can act as the linking pin between innovation and education between our two countries.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am reaching the end of my speech. My Chinese colleagues, I hope you have some understanding now of what the 'Dutch Universities of Applied Sciences' can contribute. I am optimistic about the possibilities to engage in long-term cooperation with Chinese counterparts. This I believe is a winning combination of 'working knowledge', both for our students, staff, and management!
Thank you very much and success on the rest of your visit.