Avans broadens its horizons: ‘We need international perspectives’

The international community at Avans University of Applied Sciences now has its own headquarters, a physical space that highlights the importance Avans attaches to internationalisation. Although this term might be a little outdated. Acting president of the Executive Board, Jacomine van Ravensbergen, and strategic policy adviser, Dennis van der Pas, explain why the term ‘global engagement’ is more apt. They also explain the need for international cooperation and Avans’ views on the political developments with regard to internationalisation.

Jacomine Ravensbergen global engagement Avans

“When people hear the term internationalisation, most mainly think about English-taught education and going abroad”, explains Dennis. “But these aspects pertain to only 5% of our students, while internationalisation affects everyone. It is our ambition to train and deliver professionals who can make a difference in and for a sustainable society. To achieve this, you have to understand how the world works and you need to be involved in what is going on. Hence the term ‘global engagement’. If you explain it this way, everyone will immediately understand the relevance for all of our students, staff, the professional practice and our research.”

And Dennis knows that this means Avans has its work cut out for it in this regard. “For example by considering the question of why we think differently than people from Asian countries. You need to take all of these types of aspects into account if you want to make a difference.”

The dual objective of global engagement

Jacomine further underscores the words of Dennis: “We have a dual objective here. 1: we train our students to contribute to important transitions. As we all know, those do not end at the border. So you need to think about a global approach. You also need an understanding of other countries, cultures and the people working on those same transitions. We will not be able to achieve much change alone.”

“And 2: considering all of the geopolitical relations in the world as well as climate impact, it is obvious that global engagement begins right on your doorstep”, she continues. “We have a lot of people from other cultures and backgrounds who live and work in the Netherlands. From refugees to international students and migrant workers. Our students will encounter them more and more in their lives and in their work. And then we haven’t even mentioned research yet, which is, almost by its very nature, globally focused.”

European partnership

“So on the one hand we want to open doors and windows to the outside world, and on the other hand we want to bring the outside in more”, says Jacomine. This is one of the reasons why Avans recently joined PIONEER, a European partnership consisting of ten research universities and universities of applied sciences. “With such a permanent international network, it will become much easier to achieve our teaching and research goals, because we can help each other.”

Dennis also shares that, in January 2024, PIONEER plans to submit an application to become one of 60 European universities. “Each European university is a partnership between universities of applied sciences and research universities. The goal of the European universities is to increase the physical and virtual mobility of students and staff, and to share knowledge and research.”

Sharing knowledge with Cologne

What does that entail exactly? Dennis: “Jacomine was right to refer to research. It is precisely in this area that we really wish to bring global engagement to the fore. This is why PIONEER is working to bring lines of research from several countries together, so we can accelerate them. We also facilitate contact between professors, because they can achieve more together.”

Whether or not the European university receives the go-ahead, Avans is already benefitting from joining PIONEER. Recently Avans welcomed a delegation from partner TH Köln. “The purpose was to become better acquainted and to explore areas in which we might be able to help each other. For example, TH Köln is involved in the redesign of old lignite mines in the region. With students, but also with research. Interestingly, Breda and Tilburg are also currently working on regional innovations, and Avans is involved in those. This is just one of the parallels we discovered during the visit. We definitely plan to take a trip to Cologne at some point.”

Interwoven themes

In addition to global engagement, diversity, inclusion and sustainability are other Avans priorities. These may appear to be standalone themes, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jacomine explains: “Global engagement also means engagement of global transitions. In other words, sustainability. And sustainability is about more than biodiversity and climate; think of sustainable relations, for example. And that then leads to diversity and inclusion.”

Dennis: “We now need to bring those intersections even more to the fore, so people understand that these themes do not exist in isolation. We are now looking into whether people who are interested in ‘standalone’ themes could also be interested in the other themes. This will make it easier to connect them in the three disciplines.”

Election theme

Internationalisation is an especially hot topic now that the elections for the House of Representatives are around the corner. How does Avans look at this? “Sometimes it seems as though all developments in the area of internationalisation are tarred with the same brush”, says Jacomine. “The developments that the political arena focuses on are not the same developments that we focus on with global engagement. It would be great if that distinction could be made. Just like the distinction between research universities and universities of applied sciences, because the issue of too many international students is mainly the case at research universities. Less so at universities of applied sciences and especially not at Avans, because only a small percentage of our students come from other countries.”

“Add to that the fact that you cannot solve regional challenges in the labour market, for example those at ASML, with only students taught in the Netherlands. So the political discussion consists of a variety of contradictions. I hope and also expect to some extent that the government will ultimately realise this. A new legislative proposal is being drafted. Thankfully, the explanatory notes acknowledge the importance of internationalisation to the quality of our education. We simply need this international perspective. Global engagement is here to stay.”