This piece is the result of a collaboration between The Northern Times, and CLIO, the study association for International Relations students a the University of Groningen. Myrthe Egberink and Paul Schamp are both reporters at Checks & Balances, CLIO’s in-house magazine for all things Internationally relatable.
By Paul Schamp and Myrthe Egberink
The region of Groningen has gained particular momentum as an international hub, drawing students from across the globe to study 180 internationally-recognized English-taught degrees at the University of Groningen alone. More than ever, the region is opening itself to the world by offering greater accessibility to a region that is constantly in transformation. The language barrier is not a problem, in this multinational and multicultural country.
As an annual average of 6,000 international students join the Groningen study body, Groningen and the other northern regions want to become more attractive and innovatively capable to grow as a player in the global world, and encourage students who study to also stay and improve the human capital of the northern regions and the Netherlands at large. After all, international students’ economic impact is very important, making up for 74 billion euros in 2017.
To stay, or not to stay
The North of the Netherlands faces some particular challenges. One of the key issues the province of Groningen faces with international students is that many of them leave after getting their diploma. This means that the human capital potential achieved by those studying here is ultimately lost after they graduate. This puts a break in the positive feedback loop that human capital creates. Retaining human capital can improve global competitiveness, better creativity and innovativeness, which in turn contributes to Groningen and the North’s ability to attract international talent. But this is hard to do when the average international student existence in Groningen is only 3-4 years.
“I love the city and I wanted to stay here, but at the same time, you realize that even if you can find a job, you have to know Dutch. But it is also the fact that everyone leaves, and so the region is international but… temporarily international, because it is always changing. People leave, and you notice after a few years of being here that there’s this constant change of international people. The community is there, but it’s this in-between point in people’s lives rather than somewhere to stay, and when most people want to leave, you then do too,” Says Ieva Vinciunaite, a former student at RUG.
In the Netherlands, the job market and other parts of the society are becoming more internationally orientated. Already, the Government’s academic council for government policy has stated that 1 in 5 Dutch people have at least one parent born abroad. However, when comparing it to other parts of the Netherlands, research by Gemeente Groningen has shown that the Northern region of the Netherlands has been lagging behind in the process of internationalization. Export still is an important pillar of the Northern economy, but Groningen is home to less internationals, businesses have less foreign employees and the export numbers are smaller.
Although Groningen seems to be the epicenter of the international community in the northern regions because of its highly praised universities, its international trade (import plus export) has dropped quite a degree. Drenthe and Friesland have in fact been picking up the pace, with Friesland’s international trade skyrocketing after 2016. In 2018, Leeuwarden was also chosen as the cultural capital of Europe which significantly boosted tourism in the Friesland region and it became a European hotspot. Drenthe’s share in export and import is relatively low in comparison to the other regions, but has been on a steady increase since 2010 and is currently growing faster than the national numbers.
‘Next City Groningen’
When looking at the revision of the internationalization policy of Groningen in 2017, it states that Groningen wants to function as a ‘Next City’, meaning that they want to facilitate and strengthen activities that are meant to attract international talent. They recognize that the economy and the attractiveness of the entire North of the Netherlands are at least partially based on internationalization. The ambition for the future, as stated in the policy, is to become one of the top 50 medium-sized cities around the world with the best living conditions for citizens and international talent. ‘Next City Groningen’ strives to be a preferable choice for students and knowledge workers from the Netherlands and the rest of the world. They aspire to stand out in living conditions and knowledge. Although this policy has been drawn up by the government of Groningen, it was written on behalf of the other provinces in the region as well.
Thus, Groningen is rising up the challenge to attract investment and retain capital. It is currently home to several strong business sectors such as green chemistry, agrifood, life sciences and health. A report by organization Decisio indicates that between 2009 and 2013, the number of internationals employed in the Northern regions of the Netherlands almost doubled from 7,800 to 13,100. Moreover, a report on international students by Nuffic found that in 2017, 36% to 42% of international graduates have stayed in the Netherlands five years after graduating, and that the Groningen region has the 6th highest stay rate of international graduates in the country.
The message is loud and clear: students want to stay, and the more the merrier. It seems like initiatives such as the International Welcome Center North (ICWN), Topdutch, and NVNOM have absolutely helped push the Northern regions into the future. If continued like this, the journey to ‘Next City Groningen’ is not that long anymore and the North of the Netherlands will be an even more culturally diverse and economically prosperous region, on which its citizens may be proud.