By Miles Henderson
— This summer, after a rigorous selection process, four AUC students will be traveling to China to work within interdisciplinary groups to tackle problems ranging from city planning to international business development. As part of the Netherlands-Asia Honours Summer School (NAHSS), selected students are given the opportunity to work with companies like Huawei, Unilever, and ABN-AMRO. However, the programme is limited solely to the Dutch speaking students of AUC.
With support from three Dutch government agencies, including the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the NAHSS programme has tried to increase the extremely small number of Dutch students expected to choose China as their destination of study. According to AUC’s Coordinator for Internationalisation, Marcus Smit, only 0.5 percent of Dutch students choose to go to China for postgraduate study. At the program’s inception, students were limited to working within The Netherlands. Now, new cohorts are expected to spend a large portion of the program in China.
Initiated by AUC sponsor Akzonobel in collaboration with TU Delft and Utrecht University, the programme sought to connect students with both public and private institutions in China – a country that has recently seen strengthened cooperation with The Netherlands. Now that Dutch government interests have begun to angle themselves towards China’s competing economy, interest in bringing Dutch students overseas has increased. However, it remains a selective programme, with only 4 of the 30 UvA applicants selected to go abroad.
Annemijn Ooms, a second-year Social Science major and 2019 NAHSS scholar, says that reading headlines in the news about Chinese trade sparked her interest. Another NAHSS scholar and second-year Social Science major, Justin Smael, says that the programme is “unlike any exchange” and gives students a chance to work on actionable problems in interdisciplinary project groups.
Although the programme consists of collaborating in project groups and working with large enterprises, AUC does not recognise it as fulfilling requirements for a community project or internship (CPI). This did not deter Smael, who saw the opportunity to connect with businesses like Huawei as more important. Ooms was also undeterred, noting that courses taken during the programme have transferable credits.
Despite the appeal of the NAHSS programme, it remains limited to students proficient in Dutch. Smit says that as an initiative co-sponsored by several Dutch companies and government agencies, the primary goal of NAHSS is to foster Netherlands-China relations. Smit revealed that he has lobbied the NAHSS advisory board, in an effort to remove the restriction, but has yet to be successful. Smael did not believe the language limitation was important, and cited the “china strategy”, a plan to bolster Netherlands-China relations, as well as the benefits of cooperation between the two countries as important aspects to consider.
The core government interests, universities, and Dutch business sponsorships that fund the programme are what the NAHSS calls a “triple helix” of partnerships, and may explain the insistence to keep Dutch as a firm language requirement. Smit notes that although the programme has a language restriction, there is no restriction on the basis of citizenship. It is therefore accessible to any student as long as they are competent in Dutch, that is, to a majority of AUC students.