It’s 2021 and December’s already here. The ideal time for everyone – including the National Code of Conduct Committee – to review the past and survey the future. 2021 marks the second year of the corona pandemic. It involved numerous restrictions on a wide range of activities, and international courses of study were not exempt. The admission procedures and the language tests are now running fairly smoothly – thanks to the modifications that were made back in 2020 – yet studying still poses many challenges for international students. Many of the lectures take place online. Also, how do you make friends and soak up the culture when you constantly have to keep your distance? Various studies conducted among Dutch students have shown that this avalanche of restrictions has caused many of them to become depressed, sad, or disheartened. This is all the more so for international students. With this in mind, it is encouraging to note that universities of applied sciences and other universities are launching all kinds of schemes to help international students feel at home here. Accordingly, the National Committee takes heart from the fact that it has received so few complaints from students this year.
The past year also saw the launch of a project to evaluate the Code of Conduct. This is an exercise that takes place once every five years. On this occasion, it is focusing both on the content of the Code and on the joint approach adopted by the parties charged with monitoring it (umbrella organizations in the educational sector, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND), the Ministry of Justice and Security (J&V), and Nuffic (the Dutch organization for internationalization in education)). The latter aspect was prompted by the pressure imposed on admission processes by corona, and by the differing views of the various parties involved on how to resolve this situation. Fortunately, the evaluation has been a breath of fresh air, triggering renewed enthusiasm. This exercise has also enabled the views of international students to feature more prominently in the Committee’s agenda setting. The international students we consulted are enthusiastic about this. We anticipate that the evaluation will be complete by mid-2022.
The evaluation once again spotlighted the disparities between the Higher Education and Research Act (WHW) and the Aliens Act, in terms of an educational institution’s options for refusing entry to international students. The Higher Education and Research Act states that such refusal is not permitted, while the Aliens Act states that it is. As a result, the institutions in question are compelled to resolve this issue in their own way. This recurring issue also has political dimensions. We trust that it will swiftly be resolved, once the new government has been appointed. To this end, we will make every effort to place it on the agenda.
The corona restrictions have served to underline the importance of a Code of Conduct for international students. After all, even in difficult times, this provides guidance to one and all. We were very fortunate that the Code was already in place before the corona pandemic broke out. This has enhanced the standing of the Code and the Code of Conduct Committee as a regulatory mechanism. While that is certainly good to know, it does involve certain obligations (noblesse oblige) and it also requires ongoing communication to highlight the existence of the Code. The Code of Conduct is inherent to individual institutions but, in abstract terms, it transcends them all. This awareness must be repeatedly spotlighted, to keep the flame burning. Once again, that is our New Year’s resolution.
In conclusion, Joris van Bergen stepped down as Chair of the Committee in 2021. He was an excellent Chair – precise and professional, with a great sense of humour. He is going to be a hard act to follow. The mantle has now passed to me. I promise to follow his example to the best of my ability – to do justice to Joris and especially to the international students.
Paul Rullmann, Chair of the National Committee