TU Delft Delta Timo Kos
Timo Kos: “Imagine the enormous workload if you have nine thousand applicants from which you have to make a selection.” (Photo: Tomas van Dijk)

The Computer Science and Engineering programme is suddenly attracting many more international students. Director of education and student affairs, Timo Kos, explains international trends in studying abroad and possible options to curb growth. “We would like to share our knowledge, but there are budgetary limits.”

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The number of preliminary registrations for computer science and engineering is already over eight hundred. How should this be handled?
“This will be looked at by a task force headed by the dean. We must provide larger classrooms and attract additional staff. Fortunately, we have experience in this. We had an intake of 700 students for the bachelor’s programme in Mechanical Engineering for example. That is the number we think will enrol: 700 to 750. The preliminary registrations will increase in the coming months, but not everyone will actually start.”

What are the international trends in studying abroad?
“It has been growing for fifteen years. Worldwide there are about five million students who follow a bachelor‘s or master’s programme outside their own country. There was rapid growth between 1995 and 2010: six percent per year. Since then, the growth has been a little bit lower. The reason for this seems to be the economic crisis of 2008. As a result, the growth levelled out: between one and two percent.”

Where did that enormous growth between 1995 and 2010 come from?
“It came from opening borders, the disappearance of the Wall and the Eastern Block, and the growing middle class in emerging economies. Furthermore, China opened up and created scholarship programmes for students to go abroad. Another reason is that governments have withdrawn a little from higher education in terms of financing, especially in the US and the United Kingdom. This was especially so during the crisis. Educational institutions, therefore, entered the international market.”

How can TU Delft take these different trends into account?
“If you become overly dependent on a certain group, you will notice quickly when numbers suddenly increase or decrease. Dependence results in problems with staff numbers and facilities. Therefore, TU Delft wants greater diversity in the intake, not only from large countries such as China and India, but also from other Asian countries and from African and South American countries. If things go wrong in, say, China, you will still have inflows from other countries. This is partly to reduce financial risk, but it is also better for the quality of the course because you want to prepare students for a more international work environment. Not just with Chinese or Indian students.”

Should TU Delft offer more online courses?
“That is one of the options that we are now exploring. In theory, online offers the possibility to provide quality education at a larger scale. We are now looking at the example of Georgia Tech University that has undertaken a rather daring experiment. Georgia Tech now offers the Computer Science master’s programme for 7,000 instead of 45,000 dollars a year, and aims to train 10,000 students online. It wants to do that on the same level as the on-campus programme, which can only accommodate a few hundred students. This is a bold strategy that proves to be successful.”

Increase prices for international students, is that an option?
“We have done this in the past, but there is a limit to that. It will mean that studying will no longer be affordable for some groups. This results in a more one-sided influx than you would like to have. Student financing sometimes depends on scholarship programmes in the country of origin. By increasing prices, some countries will be unable to pay it anymore. It is an option, though. One dichotomy is that if online education becomes cheap and campus education becomes expensive, you have to ask what the relationship is between the two and whether large-scale campus education still has added value. You should focus on your vision: what kind of people do you aim to serve on campus and online, and why? And what do they bring to your institute, to the Netherlands, to the world?”

What is TU Delft’s opinion about this?
“Our philosophy has always been that we want to be as accessible as possible, certainly for Dutch students, and also for European students. Until recently, we were also very accessible to non-EU students, but we have noticed that there is a limit. We want to share our knowledge with the world and have an impact on the big societal issues. Therefore, we would like to share our knowledge, but there are budgetary limits and we mustn’t run significant risks.”

In Aerospace Engineering, the ratios for intake in 2017 were 53 percent Dutch, 35 percent EU and 12 percent non-EU students. Soon the Dutch students might be in the minority.
“There is a large group of Flemish speaking Belgians, so the number of Dutch speakers is still somewhat higher than 53 percent. But you are right, the ratio of students with Dutch roots has fallen over the past ten years from more than two-thirds to almost fifty-fifty. That is one of our concerns, how to ensure that the percentage of students does not drop much further?”

Because TU Delft thinks this is undesirable?
“Tim van der Hagen (chairman of the board, ed.) has said: ‘we are a Dutch university. We want to have a good number of Dutch students. You have to keep a balance.’ That is one of the things that we are now discussing with the Ministry of Education. It is not easy to keep the balance with the current instruments.”

Van der Hagen said during a consultation with the Works Council that Germany has legally stipulated that the inflow from outside the EU may not exceed seven percent. Will TU Delft argue for this with the Minister?
“We will argue for a range of measures to keep the intake manageable, both in quantity and diversity. We have seen this in other countries, so we will certainly mention it to the Minister, and it will also be brought forward by the VSNU.”

Is TU Delft thinking of achieving balance through selection?
“It is not a matter of the right tools as yet. We will first articulate what we would like and what we cannot do now, and what kinds of measures might help. There are options to record things in your OER (Education and Examination Regulations, ed.) and to work with cohorts within a study programme. We are exploring them all.”

What is possible within the OER?
“The Rotterdam School of Management has an international business programme in which it has agreed in the OER that the international composition of the group is crucial for achieving the final objectives. The School has been able to stipulate the nationalities that it wants to have in what proportion. This instrument must then be related to the final attainment levels of each programme. That is not self-evident for every programme.”

What possibilities are there for cohorts within a study programme?
“You are permitted to create an honours track in your study programme in which you have a little more freedom in selecting students than the regular study programme has. We look at what is already being done in some places in the Netherlands and to what extent this is also applicable, adequate and feasible in Delft. Imagine the enormous workload if you have nine thousand applicants from which you have to make a selection. And it is expected that this number will increase over the coming years.”

Want to know more?

A new Delta Debate coming up! This Wednesday March 28th Timo Kos will discuss TU Delft’s international ambitions.  

Wednesday March 28th, 16:00 – 18:00 
Teaching Lab, Landbergstraat 19, Delft
Free entrance and free drinks