Bringing a glocal approach to the Netherlands

To add value to the local region while promoting internationalisation, Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences takes a ‘glocal’ approach

‘We strive to bring expertise, knowledge and diversity to the local region in which we operate, thereby enhancing the economy, culture and social environment around the university,’ explains Peter Birdsall, President of the Board at Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences in Apeldoorn, Netherlands.

In this interview, Birdsall goes on to outline the School’s plans for the future, while expressing his enthusiasm for two new MBA specialisations on offer at Wittenborg, in AI and clean technology. ‘The employability of these graduates in the Netherlands looks very promising,’ he says. Read on to learn more about the School’s outlook and strategic vision.

Please can you tell me a little about the programmes available at your School, as well as typical student intake sizes? 

Our School is based in the Dutch town of Apeldoorn and we currently offer bachelor’s and master’s programmes to around 1,000 students a year (as of 2019) from the Netherlands and around the world. Around 100 of those students are studying entrepreneurship and an MBA in international management at our Amsterdam campus.

We are a continuously developing institute that enjoys bringing a global outlook to a local region. We are growing by an average of 17% a year and aim to achieve around 1,500 students by 2023.

What do you think makes your portfolio of programmes stand out from others that are available in the country headquarters of your School and the surrounding region?

What makes Wittenborg special is its international character. Our students represent over 100 different nationalities and our 120 academics and 60 support staff represent over 40 different nationality backgrounds. It’s a wonderful and dynamic atmosphere to work and study in and the internationalisation and diversity that Wittenborg brings to the municipality of Apeldoorn is clearly appreciated. We embrace internationalisation as a key value and aim to let this be shown in every aspect of life at the School.

To achieve this, we engage in close dialogue with industry, government (local, regional and national) and NGOs, creating a so-called ‘triple helix’. We strive to bring expertise, knowledge and diversity to the local region in which we operate, thereby enhancing the economy, culture and social environment around the university. We call it a ‘glocal’ approach.

How is the School working to boost the employment prospects of its graduates?

All of our programmes contain an element of work experience. In the bachelor’s programmes, this ranges from three to six months depending on the pathway. While work experience is optional in the master’s programmes, modules such as ‘professional enquiry’ and ‘project weeks’ are all carried out in combination with an investigation into practice in the work field.

We encourage all students to centre their final project and graduation assignment on a company or organisation. We find that bachelor’s students often stay at their work placement company to continue with their research project, while master’s students often find work during their graduation phase and base their project on that employer.

Employability of graduates will become an ever-increasing important factor in all audits and measurements of our success in the future and we intend to extend the quality system to encompass assurance of learning by further involving graduates and employers in the development of learning outcomes.

Which single new programme course or initiative are you most excited about and why?

Our MBA is currently available across nine different pathways, and we are extremely excited about the development of two new MBAs with technology specialisations, focussed on AI and clean technology. The employability of these graduates in the Netherlands looks very promising and we have developed these specialisations together with regional employers, and other educators in the area.

Outline the importance of diversity and ethics to your Business School’s strategy and why you feel they are vital topics for business as a whole today

Wittenborg embraces diversity as a key value. It is extremely important to us to promote total equality of students and staff, of cultures, gender, and people with disabilities within the School and also within our environment. We promote a working environment that is fair, and emphasises respect between and within our student and staff body.

Wittenborg’s motto [‘better yourself, better our world’] expresses the commitment to offer higher education where students and staff understand that ethics plays a central role in their every decision. Guided by well-established ethical and moral standards, such as honesty and integrity, we strive for a better tomorrow.

What are your hopes for the School’s future?

Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences’s goal is to develop into a broad business and management-orientated university of applied sciences in various professional fields, such as business and entrepreneurship, hospitality and tourism, arts and technology, health and social care, and education.

As we are a non-profit School, we are able to plough all extra revenues back into the organisation, to support education development and the development of staff. For instance, we currently have 39% of our academics holding a doctorate or PhD. Our aim is to reach 60% of academic teaching staff holding a PhD equivalent qualification, and 40% being scholarly active, by 2021.

The aim to increase our proportion of scholarly-active teaching staff is one of our seven strategic initiatives. These strategic initiatives also include the further development of staff as well as maintaining and managing the current growth strategy, which means ensuring that the quality of incoming students is more important than the quantity and that we continue to improve and enhance our international classroom.

Last year, we started offering split-site PhD programmes in business and management, hospitality and tourism, together with our UK partner, the University of Brighton. This will help us develop our ‘own’ research environment and prepare us well to offer our own doctorate degrees.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing providers of business education in the country headquarters of your School and the surrounding region, in your opinion?

We are a private university of applied sciences, and the only one that is fully English speaking and has such a diverse and international student and staff body. Many of the private Business Schools in the Netherlands are smaller than Wittenborg, and struggle to gain recognition, nationally and internationally.

Is there anything you’d like to see change among providers of business education, or that they could be doing better? (in the country headquarters of your School and/or throughout the rest of the world)

In the Netherlands, there are so many publicly funded business degree programmes taught in English (with Dutch speakers often teaching Dutch speakers in English) that it would be nice to see some regulation of these, as Dutch Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, has indicated. Business Schools should focus on excellence within their own particular environment and try to establish a particular outstanding profile, rather than trying to ‘be like the rest’.

Peter Birdsall is President of the Board of Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. He was previously reponsible for internationalising the curriculum at the Saxion University of Applied Sciences in Enschede, Netherlands. He holds a bachelor’s in teaching from Windesheim University of Applied Sciences and a master’s in education management from the UK’s Open University.

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