My more than nine years of stay in the Netherlands is spent in studying, researching, and teaching in Dutch academic institutions. A total of two years were spent for studying my master degree, five years for doing my PhD research, and two years for teaching and doing research at the same time in an applied university. These experiences enable me to gain insights on the Dutch academic system and on its main differences with other universities worldwide, more particularly in Southeast Asia. I studied in Philippines since my childhood up to the point I got my bachelor degree. I also interacted with many internationals from Asia. Sharing experiences with fellow Asian internationals enable me to see the advantages and disadvantages between the Dutch and Asian universities. Many of the Dutch universities are considered to have high quality of education as can be seen in their high rankings among universities worldwide. Check this link from Times Higher Education to know the top Dutch universities. At the same time, there are also some learning that Dutch universities can learn from Asian universities. In case you are interested to study in the Netherlands, below you will find some reasons that explain these differences in order to avoid culture shock.
Differences between Dutch and Southeast Asian Universities
1. Dutch equality versus Asian’s seniority.
Academic mentors, such as teachers, lecturers, and professors, in the Netherlands are often called on their first names basis (without Prof., Dr., Ma’am, Mrs. or Sir). This gesture is a sign that students can talk and can express their thoughts and opinions to their mentors at an equal level. Students in the Netherlands show respect by paying attention and showing interests to their mentors’ lessons. Meanwhile, it is a cultural aspect that teachers and professors in Asia are called in respectable ways as a sign of respect, achievement and seniority of the academic mentors.
2. Dutch universities promotes self-improvement as compared to competition in Asian universities.
Dutch education system promotes self-improvement of students through judging students’ individual qualities and capabilities against their educational criteria, and not based on the comparison with the academic performances of other students. The main goal of students in a Dutch university is to improve their performances based on their personal goals. For instance, students can always repeat their exams when they failed while the failed grades do not appear in student’s transcript of records. Meanwhile, competition among students are promoted in Asian universities, by recognizing excellent students in terms of honor rolls, awards, class rankings, and laudes. This cultural ranking system, in most ways, gives pressure to students to perform better or to stand out among the crowd.
3. Pass versus Perfect.
For mentors in Dutch universities, there will always be points of improvements for students in many aspects, thus it is almost impossible to get perfect grades. For example, it is impossible to get a 10 (highest grade from 1-10) in your master thesis because it means that you are as good as a PhD student and that your thesis can be published in a journal with minor or without revision! In Asian universities, however, students can get nearly or a perfect score or grades in exams, practicals, or even thesis.
4. Dutch universities emphasizes on theory while most Asian universities focuses on practical applications.
On one hand, universities in the Netherlands put emphasis on understanding and developing theories before applying them in practical applications. On the other hand, Southeast Asian universities focuses more on practical applications while applying theories, but less on developing new theories. Since universities in Southeast Asia have more practical approach, I wouldn’t be surprised that most of these universities are equivalent to HBOs (Hoger beroepsonderwijs; literally means “higher professional education”) education in the Netherlands. The best description for this level of education is ‘practical university’ which has lower theory orientation as a normal Dutch university.
5. Dutch universities promotes creativity, Asian universities focuses on knowledge.
The Netherlands academic system are aimed at building the creativity of students through using problem solving approach, giving more freedom to students to design their study programme and to develop their own topics, and encouraging independence in their own ways of thinking or doing research. For example, students are stimulated to come up with innovative, interesting, and new topics in their research, projects, or thesis. Thus, Dutch universities are leading in terms of sustainability researches, advance technological applications in different fields of science, and unique and interesting ideas (e.g. exploring the possibility of using insects as ingredients for cookies). If you are interested to know and to incorporate the sustainability practices I have learned in the Netherlands, check the following link. Meanwhile, Asian universities are very good on facts and knowledge from books and practical experiences and mostly focused on solving in-country related problems such as improvement in agriculture system and solving poverty.
6. Dutch universities focus on international scope while Asian universities prioritizes local orientation.
Dutch universities are open minded and always keep the possibilities of establishing international connections. These traits could be rooted in the trading characteristics of Dutch in the 16th century, where in they explored and discovered many parts of the worlds for trading goods and services. Another sign of internationalization of Dutch universities are the mixed of Dutch and many internationals from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Africa in classes. Students are encouraged to gain international experience by going on an internship or conducting research worldwide. This is made possible through strong international connections and availability of financial supports to students to basically do whatever they find interesting in their studies. Students from universities in Southeast Asia, however, are mostly limited in doing researches at local and national levels, since their topics focused more on improving the local conditions of the country.