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‘Nigeria, Netherlands relations will provide room for more exposure’

Daily Trust: The Dutch Embassy recently announced its intention to hold an education fair, what informed this? Michel Deelen: The Dutch government has been doing…

Daily Trust: The Dutch Embassy recently announced its intention to hold an education fair, what informed this?

Michel Deelen: The Dutch government has been doing a lot in the area of education.

For instance, we have in place the annual Netherlands Fellowship Programme ( NFP) which has been running for years and I can say quite a number of Nigerians have benefitted from it. But fellowship is for a group of people. On the other hand, education is for everybody that is qualified, and what many people don’t realize is that quite a number of universities in the Netherlands also teach in English Language. Although our own language is Dutch and not English, many people understand English in Netherlands and more schools are teaching in English. We have over 2001 courses being taught in English Language.

As we have Dutch students who go abroad to acquire more knowledge, new experiences and exposure, so there are many students from different nationalities in Netherlands. Our education system is open. It is all about qualifications. If you have the prerequisite, the university will look into it and you will be offered admission. Our educational disposition is not just for universities and polytechnics alone, it also involves vocational studies. So, the whole idea of this fair is about exposure. If people have opportunities to see what happens in other places they become more enlightened. For a country like Nigeria where it is sometimes difficult to have foreign exposure, that is why we have the fellowship programme. We believe that it is even more essential to look at what has happened in other countries to know about how other people have applied solutions to their challenges and you can bring that knowledge to Nigeria.  So when you combine that to your study in Netherlands, I believe you will be doing a lot of good to yourself.

DT: But some Nigerians are going for this foreign exposure?

Deelen: Yes. We know a lot of Nigerians are doing that, but we realized at the embassy that the focal point has only been on schools in US, UK, Canada, Germany, among others, but they really don’t know much about Netherlands whereas our universities are high rank on a global scale. It is therefore one of the reasons we are embarking on the promotion of Netherland schools and the reason we are organizing the fair. We are looking towards having up to twelve schools coming to Nigeria. When they come, they will be able to tell the people what they are offering.

The good thing is that this is always in everybody’s interest. It is good for Nigerian students to have foreign exposure and it is also good for Netherlands to have a broad-based population of international students.  We have a population of about 17 million people, that may be a little larger than that of Lagos but we have an economy that is larger than that of Nigeria. So, we are a small country with big opportunities. People who come to Netherlands to study may learn from us how to do that. Also, we have different provinces and there are universities in each of these provinces. Most of the universities are government owned. We only have a few private universities but there are also very strict inspections and the quality of the education being dished out is high. The universities have different faculties that require inspection to be carried out on them every four years. The government can guarantee the quality of their education. It is also important to note that Netherlands is different from what people are used to in other countries’ universities. You know if you go to universities in other countries you may find a situation where there are many students, up to 100 or more in a lecture theatre, taking notes, but in Netherlands, our system does not consist of a Professor talking while students take notes. Our system consists of small, working groups with a professor and which involves solving a problem that requires active participation of everybody.

DT: So, would you say that makes the Dutch education approach superior?

Deelen:  We had for long discovered that the idea of having big lecture theatres where students have to copy notes or make photocopies is often one way and it is not always conducive, especially now in 2017 when we live in a modern age and people are expected to have broad knowledge and be able to interact among themselves. That small study group system helps students to be more independent, to be more outgoing.

Today, we live in what many call a global village. What this means is that as a graduate, if you are looking for job, you will not only be competing with people within your country but globally. If an international company places an offer in India, or Ghana or Netherlands and to be able to compete or play that role effectively, you need some form of international experience or exposure that would make you competitive. If you don’t have it, you may be left behind.

DT: What other benefits apart from education would Nigerians willing to study in Netherlands get?

Deelen: Everybody, whether from China, America, Japan, or Nigeria, comes in with their own cultural backgrounds and the diversity is one of the things we can celebrate culturally. Coming to Netherlands is beyond just the academic engagements. When you are there, you will meet the Dutch people and people from other places, you will live among them and you will be part of the population and I think that is an aspect of culture because through interactions, we can learn one or two things from one another in relation to respective cultures.

DT: While exploring diplomatic relations in the area of education, should it just be limited to education fair?

Deelen: Prior to this time, there had been lots of relationships between and among Dutch and Nigerian universities. Aside the celebrated Nigerian professors who are lecturing in the Netherlands, there are Dutch scholars and researchers who have also come to Nigeria. There are educational and research linkages between the schools. There is relationship between the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan and Dutch institutions, for instance. But that is in the context between the universities themselves and the international research community.

In addition to that, we at the embassy feel it will also be good that there should be a sort of relationship or engagement between the students. Therefore we are starting this year, for the first time, a business competition between Dutch and Nigerian schools. It is basically going to be an exchange programme whereby Dutch students will come to Nigeria and Nigerian students will go to Dutch schoolsand they can all work on business cases. It is also good for exposure.

There would be a jury that will grade their submissions at the end of day and lookout for the best business case. Like I said, that is the first time we would be doing this. Because there is one thing that is lacking in our relationship and that is in the area of students’ exchange programmes. And it is in the field of cooperation between the two countries.

DT: Can you tell us about your economy in comparison with Nigeria’s?

Deelen: Yes, it is in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Of course, Nigeria and Netherlands are in different positions. As we are all aware, Nigeria’s economy went into recession last year but we thank God that it is now growing and it is back on the gold spot.

DT: How would you describe the economic relationship between Netherlands and Nigeria?

Deelen:  Already in Nigeria, we have many Dutch companies. The Dutch are known for excellence and that is why many of the dredging companies you have in Nigeria today are Dutch. We also have a huge presence of Dutch multinationals such as Wempco Friesland Camprina, Unilever Plc, among others. So, the idea of an educational fair is simply another step forward in a growing relationship that cuts across different sectors.

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