• Are internationals smarter than the Dutch?
    Are internationals smarter?

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    The University is internationalizing rapidly. More and more programmes are taught in English, and Dutch students are admonished: ‘The internationals are doing so much better.’ But is that true?

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    International students are said to be more motivated and get higher grades. But is this true?

    University staff say they have no proof that internationals are doing better. However, they are more motivated.

    The reason? Internationals took a big step in studying abroad. They have more to lose and studying is more expensive to them.

    It puts a lot of pressure on internationals. ‘They should learn to relax a little’, or they run the risk of burnout.

    German student Lina saw her friends becoming more relaxed. ‘Many decided to study a year longer than they had initially planned.’

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    Students who are enrolled in the Dutch-language psychology programme suffer the most, says Betty van Engelen. She’s half-Dutch and half-Irish, and she started the English-language programme of the same study four years ago. ‘Their teachers tell them: “You have to work harder, because the average grade in the English bachelor was better!’”

    Psychology is one of the programmes offered by the University of Groningen that attracts a lot of international students, Germans in particular. In fact, there are so many Germans in the programme that non-German students sometimes feel a little left out. However, the lecturers love them: they are highly motivated and begin the programme with a higher grade point average than the Dutch students.

    Are internationals smarter?

    But are they smarter? Study adviser Libbe Kooistra can’t say and prefers not to make generalizations. Still, he sees that international students are more motivated than their Dutch colleagues on average. Kooistra explains the phenomenon: ‘You have to be a genius to study psychology in Germany.’

    ‘German students need an 8.5 or a 9 to get in the programme in their home country. Students with an average grade of an 8 who are really smart don’t get accepted and come to the Netherlands.’

    According to Nienke de Deugd, senior lecturer in the International Relations and International Organization (IRIO) programme, all students are highly motivated. She is mentoring a mixed group of Dutch students and international students from all over the world. ‘Since we started the process of decentralized selection, every student is highly motivated. Once they get in, they are extremely willing to succeed.’

    The numbers

    In 2003, only 497 of the 20,138 students at the RUG were non-Dutch. Now, there are 3,750 internationals, including Bachelors, Masters and PhDs.

    Out of the 1,133 PhD candidates, 466 are international. Among 27,511 Bachelor and Master students, 3,286 come from abroad. As for the academic staff, 35.7 percent are foreign.

    The RUG offers 107 master programs that are taught completely in English, and 21 English-taught bachelor programs.

    The internationals, which make up 39 percent of the students in the programme, have an extra motivation to try their best. ‘It is a big step and a conscious decision to continue your education abroad’, explains study advisor Hidde de Haas. That makes it extremely important for them to succeed in their studies.

    Economics teacher Richard Gigengack worked in the Faculty of Economics and Business and is currently working in the Faculty of Arts, and he sees significant overlaps in the study habits of international and Dutch students. There is one distinction between the two groups, though: Dutch students tend to have a very short-term focus when it comes to courses followed within a degree program.

    ‘International students are generally more interested in what the knowledge means for future employment activities. They ask more questions in this regard during classes. However, the short-term focus has been increasing for both groups over the years.’

    Another difference is that study delay is considered quite normal in the Netherlands – that’s not often the case in foreign countries. German psychology student Johanna Angern sees that Dutch students are more relaxed about their grades. ‘I admire that. Even though studying is important, there are more important things in life. In Germany, we learn that grades are incredibly important towards the end of secondary school.’

    Risking burnout

    However, all this motivation and focus on achievement has a downside, says Kooistra. International students live in an ambitious environment; they see their fellow students getting good grades, which in turn puts them under pressure. ‘A student asked me if he could do a resit in statistics, seeing that he only got a 7.’ Some internationals work so hard that they actually risk burnout.

    Eric Rietzschel, assistant professor at the Department of Organizational Psychology, recognizes this. But it’s only a global impression, since numbers aren’t readily available. ‘They sometimes seem to take their study too seriously. It’s also very important for them to relax a little.’

    Sometimes the pressure gets so high that internationals can’t take it anymore. Students from outside the EU also pay a higher tuition fee, and in some cases, their whole family back home works to pay for it, as psychologist and trainer Erwin Uildriks of the Student Service Centre observes. ‘It puts more pressure on them to succeed.’

    Former IRIO student Lina Rusch from Germany may not be a non-EU student, but she can relate to the financial pressure. ‘German students are much more dependent on their parents for financial support. There is no egalitarian study finance system that guarantees that everybody can finance their studies without support from home.’

    Lina is optimistic about the future, though. ‘I noticed a lot of changes during my time in Groningen. Germans became more relaxed and many decided to study a year longer than they had initially planned. There’s no right and wrong here. We all benefit from studying together. In the end, we will hopefully overcome the differences and become more open to other cultures and attitudes to studying.’

    Need to change

    It makes sense for the University to focus on internationalization. ‘Statistics have shown that the amount of Dutch students will decrease in the near future. We need to attract international students if we want to remain the kind of university we are today’, says Dinie Bouwman, policy adviser internationalization.

    The most difficult part remains the language. A switch to a common language – English – is reasonable. However, Bouwman says, ‘It is hard to give your opinion if English is not your mother tongue.’

    The only solution is a change in the recruitment policy. ‘We have to hire only people who have sufficient knowledge of the English language in every section of the organization. Internationalization costs a lot of time and energy, and the employees are already very busy. The University has to invest more if it wants this project to succeed.’