CourseraLifelong learning in the Netherlands: keeping up with a changing landscape

Lifelong learning in the Netherlands: keeping up with a changing landscape

As universities in the Netherlands continue to evolve learning and assessment methods, how are they adapting their approaches to lifelong learning and career readiness? 

Round table held in February 2022.

Higher education institutions in the Netherlands are reviewing their approach to employability and blended learning to create strong links between education and industry.

Panellists at a Times Higher Education round table, held in partnership with Coursera for Campus, agreed that teaching cannot go back to how it was before the pandemic. “We’re looking at what we keep now, and how we work with it,” said Tanja Bos, senior policy advisor at Leiden University. 

At Maastricht University, the pandemic has sharpened the focus on personalised education and problem-based learning, said Margriet Schreuders, director of Maastricht’s Student Services Centre. “We’ve invested in a toolkit for students to see how employable they are and what they need to develop further. We look at how they perform in groups, respond to a constantly changing environment and become resilient,” Schreuders explained.

Preparing students for careers that will evolve throughout their lives is crucial. “Reflection on your development is a skill in itself, and you have to keep that up to date every day of your working life,” Bos said.

Michael O’Neill, director of partnerships at Coursera for Campus, has seen a shift towards guided projects and hands-on experiences that will build students’ employability skills. “Where students would receive the same course information or attend a lecture, they’re now doing that online and then attending smaller seminars face to face. Courses are increasingly led by local industry and are driven by what’s taught in the real world,” he said. 

Technical universities such as Eindhoven Institute of Technology (EIT) and The Hague University of Applied Sciences have close bonds with employers. “They want to see students with deep discipline knowledge but also who can work in an interdisciplinary way and who can communicate,” said Robert-Jan Smits, EIT’s president.

Katrin Semlianoi, marketing advisor at the University of Twente, explained that this is an ongoing exercise. “We can ask what employers need now and they will be specific, but that gets fuzzier over five or six years as no one can predict the future,” she said.

Radboud University has its own lifelong learning institute and works with employers and regional governments to match business’ needs with the skills students acquire at university. “Students access skills such as dealing with criticism and resilience during their regular study, but we don’t always know what the mismatch is,” said Jorn ten Brink, who leads a six- to eight-week programme to help students identify areas for improvement. 

One of the challenges for universities in the Netherlands is ensuring people at all ages and stages can access lifelong learning. Although universities receive a €1,000 (£838) financial incentive to fund this, it’s not enough to cover the creation of tailored programmes. “At the moment it’s too expensive to offer programmes for groups such as mid-career workers, as even to offer microcredentials we’d need to reconsider our finances,” said Annelien Bredenoord, rector magnificus at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. 

Bringing employers on board with the assessment process could help create more work-ready students at any stage of life. “We can get people in from companies to help with assessing parts of the curriculum, for example a shorter paper with a 30-minute defence. It’s more face-to-face and employability skills-based,” said Peter Birdsall, chair of Wittenborg UAS. 

The panel:

  • Theo Bakker, managing director, Department of Education Knowledge and Communication, Hague University of Applied Sciences 
  • Annelien Bredenoord, rector magnificus, Erasmus University, Rotterdam
  • Peter Birdsall, chair, Wittenborg UAS in Apeldoorn
  • Tanja Bos, senior policy advisor, Leiden University 
  • Jorn ten Brink, programme maker, Radboud Academy Lifelong Learning Institute Radboud University
  • Raquel dos Santos de Guaij, e-learning coordinator, Education Bureau, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education 
  • Michael O’Neill, director of partnerships, Coursera for Campus
  • Margriet Schreuders, director, Student Services Centre, Maastricht University
  • Katrin Semlianoi, marketing advisor, University of Twente
  • Robert-Jan Smits, president, Eindhoven University of Technology
  • Ashton Wenborn, special projects deputy editor, Times Higher Education (chair)

Watch the round table on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

Find out more about Coursera for Campus.

Brought to you by