English-language education should stay; businesses need international talent to survive

Groningen businesses are concerned about minister Dijkgraaf’s plans to curb university education that’s being taught in English. Yeelen Knegtering, CEO of Klippa and a UG alumnus, asked some of his colleagues what they thought.

I’m an active economic player in the northern region, it concerned me to read about the government’s plans to curb the number of English-language programmes at universities.

As co-founder of Klippa, which works with AI-based document processing, I know what I’m talking about. Our company is based in Groningen and active all over the world. We wouldn’t be able to do that if it weren’t for our multicultural team.

The Klippa team consists of nearly one hundred talented people of fifteen different nationalities. Many of them wouldn’t be here if they had only been allowed to study at the University of Groningen if they spoke Dutch.

We need international talent just as much as we need local talent. It would be a mistake to impose these kinds of restrictions on the current labour market, where a shortage of labour continues to limit the productivity and growth of businesses. And I’m not just talking about the tech sector.

According to the UWV, there are 166 professions currently lacking in labour in the Netherlands. This already answers half of my question of why we should limit English-language academic education. Restricting the influx of talented people is almost certainly an inappropriate measure that will affect both our region and the rest of the country.

We need international talent just as much as we need local talent

But don’t just listen to this CEO… It turns out I’m not the only one who feels this way.

This is what Tjarda Polderman with Founded in Groningen (a programme for innovative entrepreneurs, start-ups, and scale-ups in the city and province), who also serves as a board member for YES Digital, had to say: ‘If we curb the anglicisation of study programmes, we’ll run the risk of alienating talented people who could contribute meaningfully to our economy.’

‘By discouraging international talents from coming to the Netherlands to study, we’re sending out a message that we’re not open to start-ups with international staff or to successful foreign founders who could bring valuable knowledge, experience, and opportunities to the labour market.’

Lusanne Tehupuring, founder of Enatom (a medical ethical app, developed in collaboration with the UMCG) and finalist in the Prix Galied Medtech Award, says: ‘I was surprised, concerned, and disappointed to read about the plans to curb English-language programmes. Working with an international team and using English as a working language has been crucial in the growth and success of our company.’

We shouldn’t forget the incredible potential that international students represent

Alex van Ginneken, president of the Noordelijke Online Ondernemers (Northern Online Entrepeneurs, a group of online companies in the north of the Netherlands): ‘We shouldn’t forget the incredible potential that international students represent. They’ve made the conscious choice to study abroad, which is a testament to their ambition and perseverance. These students come with unique perspectives and experiences.’

‘I’m convinced that the government should reconsider the plans to limit English-language courses. Let’s acknowledge the value of internationalisation of our education and not miss the opportunity to secure the Netherlands’ future in a world that’s becoming increasingly global.’

How many of these opinions could I have gathered if I had unlimited time? More than just a few among the players of this tight labour market. But don’t just trust any CEO, ask for yourself.


Yeelen Knegtering is CEO at Klippa and winner of the Groninger Ondernemingsprijs 2022. He studied information technology at the UG.


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