What does the future hold for (Dutch) higher ed?

And another academic year begins…

The first Monday in September traditionally marks the start of the academic year in the Netherlands. It’s the occasion where university leaders look ahead to the year to come and where inspiring speakers are invited to present their views and opinions. It is also an opportunity to see what the big issues are in Dutch higher education and how prominent is the international dimension in these issues. What will upcoming speakers (and past speakers, in those cases where the opening of the year took place prior to today) talk about?

A quick look at the guest speakers for this year and the topics of their speeches reveals that the universities have their eyes set on the future. The future of higher education seems to be the preferred topic in this year’s opening ceremonies.

The future is digital

European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, responsible for the Digital Agenda for the EU, will deliver a speech with the promising title ‘Europe 3.0’ at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Although some might claim that Europe has not yet entered the Web 2.0 era, Kroes – also alumnus of Erasmus University – will reveal her ideas on the digital future of Europe. An IT-festival with the theme ‘Erasmus Virtual Campus’ will precede the Opening ceremony and will include presentations on e-learning and e-research.

At Inholland University of Applied Sciences (UAS), the future is digital. The ongoing digitization of society and the blurring of the boundatries between the physical and virtual reality will provide new opportunities for higher education according to keynote speaker and trend watcher Adjiedj Bakas in Rotterdam last Wednesday.

Differentiation is the future

The University of Maastricht addresses the question what the world will look like in 20 years, and what universities should be doing today to gear their education and research towards this outlook? And who better to ask about the future than a historian? In Maastricht historian and author Bettany Hughes will present her views on  the Socratic future of education and of society.

Discussions on the future of Dutch higher education focus mainly on the report ‘Differentiation in threefold’. This report was written by an international advisory committee on the future sustainability of Dutch higher education. The chairman of the committee – Cees Veerman – spoke at Saxion UAS, HAN UAS and will appear at the University of Utrecht today addressing the question: “Is knowledge still power?” At Utrecht UAS, the report was discussed in the context of Europe and the position of the Universities of Applied Sciences in Europe.

The future is Europe?

The University of Amsterdam takes the future of Europe as its central theme for this year’s opening. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, chairman of the European Parliament’s Green Party, will be keynote speaker and will explore how ‘The European Dream’ has evolved over the past few decades. Also, three of its professors will consider ‘The End of Europe’ through the lens of their respective disciplines (Eastern European Studies, European Law and Communication Science).

Study abroad is the future

A special mention should be given to a very exceptional opening. The Dutch students studying at universities abroad, united in NEWS (Netherlands Worldwide Students), organized their own virtual opening of their global academic year. In a virtual address, Alexander Rinnooy Kan sent them the message that the Netherlands can only survive as a knowledge economy if we excel internationally and that we need students that are aware of the opportunities abroad.

Some other interesting speeches planned for today are:

  • ‘Two Cultures’ by Pieter Winsemius (member of the Scientific Council for Government Policy) at the University of Twente. He addresses the question how the natural sciences and the social sciences can reinforce each other and how the university contributes to society.
  • ‘How engineers can save the world’ by Rosalind Williams, Professor in Science, Technology and Society at MIT, speaking at Eindhoven University of Technology.
  • ‘Looking further ahead: Research and innovation for the long term’ by Robbert H. Dijkgraaf, President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) speaking at Leiden University.


Nuffic International Education Monitor

The Nuffic (The Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education; whic also happens to be my current employer) has launched its Nuffic International Education Monitor today. I’m sure this will be a valauable tool for many international educators, higher education/international education researchers and others interested in the international dimension of higher ed.

The monitor tracks developments in almost 50 countries all over the world. It provides up-to-date country information and explores core themes in international higher education. It provides you with a selection of the news on international higher education, categorised thematically in seven dossiers and categorised by country. It also gives a daily selection of the most interesting international news and Dutch news. Furthermore, it presents monthly overviews of Dutch, European and international policy initiatives and a list of future conferences.

The monitor also features a blog on international higher education issues. Being one of the blog contributors, I will also cross post my own contributions here. Some forthcoming issues in the Nuffic Blog are: foreign backed universities, regulation of recruiting agents, Russia-Dutch scientific cooperation, mobility statistics and many others…

Let them know what you think of it!

Recognition and Mobility in the Bologna Process

Today and tomorrow, the anniversary of the Bologna Process is celebrated. Actually…it is celebrated by most and protested against by some. A consortium of CHEPS, INCHER and ECOTEC was given the task to prepare an independent assessment of the Bologna process. The study was conducted together with experts from the University of Bath, the Bayerisches Staatsinstitut für Hochschulforschung and NUFFIC (i.c. myself). Below is Don Westerheijden (CHEPS) presenting the part of the assessment I’ve been working on: recognition and mobility.

The report is published by the European Commission and can be found here (pdf). Today’s programme was in Budapest; tomorrow, the rest of the programme is brought to you from Vienna. Watch the live stream here.

Podcasting Higher Ed

Some years ago the first podcasts emerged in higher education. Initially these were mostly downloadable lecture series, mainly from US universities. Universities like Berkeley and Stanford took the lead here but soon many other US universities followed and later, also some UK universities jumped the iTunes U bandwagon. In the Netherlands, the universities of Wageningen, Leiden and Rotterdam were the first to podcast lectures. Of course there were fears that these podcasts would make real lectures superfluous, but i don’t think that podcasts ever knocked lectures off the podium.

More recently, also several podcasts have emerged that discuss the topic of higher education. The chronicle has its podcast with weekly interviews with prominent researchers, college leaders, and Chronicle reporters about big ideas in higher education. The Center for International Higher Education at Boston College has a podcast series with a more global scope. It brings key thinkers and leaders in higher education worldwide to a global audience. The series is coordinated by Laura Rumbley and it is definitely worth to have a look.

The past week there have also been some blogs that entered the world of podcasting. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity presented it’s first podcast on it’s blog. It features the center’s director Richard Vedder discussing the role of incentives and power in higher education.Podcast_logo

For several years, the students of the Erasmus Mundus Programme on Higher Education have brought you the Hedda blog to you. I have taught a module on internationalisation, globalisation and the knowledge society for this module for several years (and loved it every year!). Of course I was pleased to see that they have started their own podcast series as well. Their first podcast features an interview with Peter Maassen, an ex colleague of mine at Cheps and now professor of Higher Education at the University of Oslo. He discusses his new book Borderless Knowledge?  Understanding the “New” Internationalisation of Research and Higher Education in Norway.

Update: I was pointed to the podcast series of the Lumina foundation. This is the foundation that is also keeping a close American watch on the Bologna process. The have two podcast sessions on the Bologna process featuring Lumina’s Dewayne Matthews and Tim Birtwistle, professor of law and policy of higher education, and the Jean Monnet chair at Leeds Law School (Leeds Metropolitan University, U.K.).

Does past performance influence success in grant applications?

Last week, the Dutch Volkskrant reported on an interesting study on the distribution of research funding by the Netherlands Research Council (NWO). Loet Leydesdorff (one of the researchers that introduced the Triple Helix concept) and Peter van den Besselaar – both of the Amsterdam School of Communications Research of the University of Amsterdam – conducted a study on the grant allocation decisions of the Netherlands Research Council in the Humanities and Social Sciences in the Netherlands.

Besselaar and Leydesdorff tested whether the grant decisions correlate with the past performances of the applicants in terms of publications and citations, and with the results of the peer review process organized by the Netherlands Research Council

In their paper they show that the Council is successful in distinguishing grant applicants with above-average performance from those with below-average performance, but within the former group no correlation could be found between past performance and receiving a grant. When comparing the best performing researchers who were denied funding with the group of researchers who received it, the rejected researchers significantly outperformed the funded ones. Within the top half of the distribution, neither the review outcomes nor past performance measures correlate positively with the decisions of the Council.

The authors conclude with some questions for further research. They suggest a network analysis of applicants, reviewers, committee members, and Council board members. This might provide an answer to the question whether funding is correlated to the visibility of the applicants within these networks. After all, in the social process of granting proposals many processes play a role, apart from scholarly quality: bias, old-boys’ networks and other types of social networks, bureaucratic competencies, dominant paradigms, etc., all play an important role in selection processes.

If my reading of the paper is correct, it might also point to a discrepancy between the grant decision makers and the international academic community. If we consider that metrics (past performance) and peer review very much emerge in international networks and the grant distributors make decisions contradicting the metrics and peer review, what does that tell about the Council members’ involvement in these international networks?

The paper will be published later this year in the journal Research Evaluation.

New Features

Due to (happy) family circumstances posting has been slow recently. I get round to finding interesting news items to blog about but often couldn’t find the time to actually write about them. I will try again to post more regularly. After all, plenty is happening in the world of higher education, science and innovation.

Between posts however, you can enjoy my tweets and links at twitter (@beerkens). Enjoy! And suggestions for new news sources are welcome.

European Innovation Scoreboard

This month, the eighth edition of the European Innovation Scoreboard was published. The European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS) has been published annually since 2001 to track and benchmark the relative innovation performance of EU Member States.

For the EIS 2008 the methodology has been revised and the number of dimensions increased to 7 and grouped into 3 main blocks covering enablers, firm activities and outputs (Figure 1). The purpose of this revision is to have dimensions that bring together a set of related indicators to give a balanced assessment of the innovation performance in that dimension. The blocks and dimensions have been designed to accommodate the diversity of different innovation processes and models that occur in different national contexts. A summary of the European state of innovation is given in the picture below (click to enlarge)


Based on their innovation performance across 29 indicators, EU Member States fall into the following four country groups:

  • Sweden, Finland, Germany, Denmark and the UK are the Innovation leaders, with innovation performance well above that of the EU average and all other countries. Of these countries, Germany is improving its performance fastest while Denmark is stagnating.
  • Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, France and the Netherlands are the Innovation followers, with innovation performance below those of the innovation leaders but above that the EU average. Ireland’s performance has been increasing fastest within this group, followed by Austria.
  • Cyprus, Estonia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy are the Moderate innovators, with innovation performance below the EU average. The trend in Cyprus’ innovation performance is well above the average for this group, followed by Portugal, while Spain and Italy are not improving their relative position.
  • Malta, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia and Bulgaria are the Catching-up countries with innovation performance well below the EU average. All of these countries have been catching up, with the exception of Lithuania.  Bulgaria and Romania have been improving their performance the fastest.

The full report can be downloaded here

The Principle of Open Access

I’m reading ‘The Access Principle’ by John Willinsky, a Canadian scholar now at the Stanford University School of Education. He is also the driving force behind the Public Knowledge Project, dedicated to improving the scholarly and public quality of research. I heard about his book some time ago when developing an interest in the open access movement (especially in relation to research in developing countries). But I got really interested after reading the intro to this book review by Scott Aaronson:

I have an ingenious idea for a company. My company will be in the business of selling computer games. But, unlike other computer game companies, mine will never have to hire a single programmer, game designer, or graphic artist. Instead I’ll simply find people who know how to make games, and ask them to donate their games to me. Naturally, anyone generous enough to donate a game will immediately relinquish all further rights to it. From then on, I alone will be the copyright-holder, distributor, and collector of royalties. This is not to say, however, that I’ll provide no “value-added.” My company will be the one that packages the games in 25-cent cardboard boxes, then resells the boxes for up to $300 apiece.

But why would developers donate their games to me? Because they’ll need my seal of approval. I’ll convince developers that, if a game isn’t distributed by my company, then the game doesn’t “count” — indeed, barely even exists — and all their labor on it has been in vain.

Admittedly, for the scheme to work, my seal of approval will have to mean something. So before putting it on a game, I’ll first send the game out to a team of experts who will test it, debug it, and recommend changes. But will I pay the experts for that service? Not at all: as the final cherry atop my chutzpah sundae, I’ll tell the experts that it’s their professional duty to evaluate, test, and debug my games for free!

On reflection, perhaps no game developer would be gullible enough to fall for my scheme. I need a community that has a higher tolerance for the ridiculous — a community that, even after my operation is unmasked, will study it and hold meetings, but not “rush to judgment” by dissociating itself from me. But who on Earth could possibly be so paralyzed by indecision, so averse to change, so immune to common sense?

I’ve got it: academics!

This was just the hilarious but oh so true intro to the actual review. Read the rest here. Or order Willinsky’s book here. And of course you can also download his book for free right here.

What if I graduated from Amherst or ENS de Lyon…

What if I graduated from Amherst College or the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, I was not a European citizen and I would like to pursue a career in the Netherlands? Well, the Dutch government would say I was not educated sufficiently to enter the Netherlands. You might ask yourself why? Isn’t the ENS de Lyon a good school? Actually it is, according to its 72nd place in the 2006 THES rankings.

No, it’s not that ENS Lyon is a lousy university. It’s just that they ended up on rank number 157 of the Times Higher Education Ranking in 2007. And – as I feared before – nowadays in the Netherlands this means that you are not qualified as a skilled migrant. As is stated in the new immigration policy – entered into force this year – only some knowledge workers are eligible to enter the Netherlands:

From abroad, immigrants are only eligible if they graduated from a university in the top 150 of the two recognised university rankings, the league tables published in 2007 by the ‘Times Higher Education Supplement‘ and the ‘Jiao Tong Shanghai University’.

You might argue that ENS Lyon improved its ranking to 140 in 2008. But no…, the Dutch government uses the 2007 league tables. Period!

Or what if I had graduated from some of the world’s best liberal arts colleges? From Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, Wellesley?

Not good enough…

And what if I had graduated from the University of Hokkaido (Japan)? The University of Notre Dame (USA)? Shanghai Jiao Tong University (China)? Universität Stuttgart (Germany)? University of Calgary (Canada)? Macquarie University (Australia)? Helsinki University of Technology (Finland)? RWTH Aachen (Germany)? University of Surrey (UK)? University of Barcelona (Spain)? Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden)? ….Bergen, Ottawa, Frankfurt, Brussels, Stockholm, Coimbra, Delaware?

No…not good enough…

The global higher education market

The last edition of the Economist in 2008 included an interesting article on the growth of international education. International education has witnessed an enormous growth in the past decade, a growth that comes with risks and benefits for both developed and developing countries.

The 20th century saw a surge in higher education; in the early 21st century, the idea of going abroad to study has become thinkable for ordinary students. In 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, nearly 3m were enrolled in higher education institutions outside their own countries, a rise of more than 50% since 2000.

The article emphasises the risks of international education, illustrated by the examples of Australia and the UK as receiving countries (the risks of over-commercialisation) and China as one of the main sending countries (the risks of brain drain). But fortunately, the benefits of international education education are not neglected. Read the rest of the article here.