“Apart from the United States and the United Kingdom (both English speaking nations which is an important asset in the rankings), the Netherlands ranks the most universities in the QS World top 200”, says Etienne Augé, a French senior lecturer at Erasmus University and Consultant at Clingendael Institute. EM talked to him about Dutch higher education and the Dutch attitude towards it. Dutch students and citizens should be more proud of their higher education, argues Augé.

Dutch confused about national identity

“It seems that Dutch students, and citizens, do not have a clear idea of their identity”, highlights Augé, “it is a very interesting phenomenon for a foreign professor.” Augé has taught at universities in Austria, the Czech Republic, Lebanon and Slovakia and highlights that all his previous students could define their national identity, even if it was most of the time a fantasy. Therefore, many Dutch students do not understand to what extent their country has become a brand for education worldwide. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that it is hard for Dutch students to evaluate their education since they grew up with it, argues Augé.

A small country can achieve excellence

The outstanding performance in the QS World top 200 “is an achievement Dutch universities can be proud of”, explains Augé, “especially since, unlike most American ones, they are all public, which means more affordable tuitions and programs that will be less subject to business pressure.” The Netherlands outperforms much bigger players like France and Germany. Augé explains that the performance of the Dutch universities shows that a small country can achieve excellence.

Ranking public relations tool

Augé acknowledges that rankings are debatable. “Rankings are mostly a public relations tool, and do not precisely reflect the level of a university”, explains Augé. He illustrates that quality of teaching is hard to evaluate and it is frequently claimed that if a professor is good in research, he is good in teaching. Nonetheless, the Netherlands is a strong brand in higher education. Augé’s analysis is based on more than the rankings, also on his personal experience. “Working in a Dutch university is both very easy and very hard”, explains Augé, “easy because one can focus on his work and do it efficiently. Hard because the job is more demanding than most university systems I have seen.”

Dutch not very proud

“Dutch students in general tend to believe in modesty in all things”, emphasizes Augé, “I have not seen Dutch students proud of anything but I might be wrong.” Augé explains that he comes from different cultures which are very proud in general. In his opinion, the Dutch should be proud of their educational system and its performance. NdB