Many Dutch universities have distinguished histories. This drawing by Johannes Woudanus of the University of Leiden’s library dates to 1610
Draw of the Dutch DegreeText Anubha Sarkar
If you were asked to list three unusual features of the Netherlands, the following would make for an interesting answer: it is the land of the tallest men in the world, its population of bicycles is possibly higher than that of all its people put together, and, for a small nation, its universities stand amongst the best institutions of higher education in the world. While the first two facts may be debatable, the third is not. Four Indians, who have journeyed through the Dutch education system, analyse why this is so.

THE FREEDOM TO LEARN

Amrita Juhi, who works as a quantitative risk analyst for Rabobank, had been working in India with the UBS in Rates Structuring, London desk. Although her clients were based in London, she yearned for an international experience. She believed the MSc in Finance and Investments at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, would be the right programme to help her achieve her goals.

Amrita Juhi

It had good ratings and she liked the course content. While studying at the institute, the big difference she found compared to her education in India was that the focus at the Rotterdam School was on academics and learning, rather than on getting a job. “Obviously, getting a job is important but doing a degree just for that and not because you want to learn is an attitude I have never liked.” Another stark difference was the feeling of being in charge of your education. “Professors and programme directors at Rotterdam will guide you and help whenever you ask. But it's completely up to you. Hardly any professors have attendance

Erasmus University, Rotterdam
Image Vysotsky/Wikimedia Commons

requirements. There is a simple assumption: If you value what's being taught, attend. Else don't. I never missed any lecture because I genuinely believed that I would be missing out.” Yet, Brijith Thomas, who recently received his PhD at Leiden University, assures that the professors are friendly and find time in their busy schedules to have discussions and encourage students to find their way. Swadhin Nanda, now a PhD candidate, did his MSc in Remote Sensing at TU Delft (Delft University of Technology). He echoes Amrita: “The role of education was to guide the students to come to their own conclusions. During my bachelor’s degree in India, students were spoon fed, and this leads to most becoming uninspired engineers who get stuck in the IT black hole.”

A STIMULATING ENVIRONMENT

Anshuman Bhattacharjee, armed with an MSc in Systems and Control at TU Delft, currently works as a proto engineer at ASML, a large Dutch company which manufactures machines for the semi conductor industry. He highlights another facet of the Dutch education system. “The frankness and love for discussion that is a part of the Dutch culture also includes the classroom. This means that there was a lot of discussion on topics and concepts in the classroom and not a one-way lecture from the professor to the teacher. These lively and engaging discussions, in my opinion, helped expose students to multiple points of view. Later this helps to integrate well into the workforce as one learns to present and evaluate views and ideas clearly.” The global character of student bodies in many Dutch universities also provides an opportunity for wider engagement. For example, Amrita found her class to be extremely international, with more than 30 nationalities represented, and Brijith says that the cosmopolitan environment at Leiden enhanced his education.

Brijith Thomas in conversation with his supervisor post his PhD defense

PROGRAMMES DESIGNED TO MAXIMISE

“Extremely rigorous...really makes one work hard for their degree” is how Anshuman describes the study programme at Delft. His courses featured tough examinations wherein to get a pass grade alone took significant understanding of the course material. A simulation project which required a practical understanding and application of the concepts taught was invariably included. “I followed a 3TU MSc programme which theoretically allowed me to follow courses at any of the three Dutch technical universities though practically this is not so easy to pull off. However, I did benefit greatly from certain courses that were offered via live video lectures from other universities.”

There is the option to shape your degree in the way you want. This is by way of electives and thesis which are part of the programme, explains Amrita. “You can choose to keep or diversify your knowledge base and focus your education in relation to what you want to do in the future.”

At the PhD level too courses are well structured. Students get teaching experience in the lab and can assist professors for classes. Facilities are available to pursue independent research; “this helped mould the real scientist in me,” feels Brijith. He informs that various paid positions are available for PhD students. These are regularly advertised on www.academictransfer.com. For the Leiden alumnus, the availability of potential collaborators round the corner was a positive aspect, as was the proximity of the university to other universities, which enabled him to participate in a lot of conferences and stimulating intellectual discussions.

AND AFTERWARDS...FINDING A JOB

“Networking is everything here”, emphasises Swadhin. “Unlike major Indian universities where placements have become a norm, no one is given a job on the completion of their studies. One is expected to network effectively with their teachers, their internship supervisors, and in company in-house events, to work towards the career they like. This is appreciated in the Netherlands.” He works now with people from various space organisations and has no doubt that what he learnt at TU Delft applies to his work every day.

Faculty of Aerospace Engineering,TU Delft
ImageTU Delft/Wikimedia Commons

Amrita affirms the importance of personal effort. She attended various recruitment events and spent nearly 10 hours a week looking for openings towards the last four months of her degree. At one of these events her CV was amongst 24 chosen out of 300. She decided to go a step forward and get in touch with the lady she had met there. The lady, impressed with Amrita’s enterprising nature, offered her an internship at the ABN AMRO Bank!

For Anshuman, it was the prestige associated with graduating from a premier technical institution that helped open doors to a job. He found that because TU Delft was well known for its academic standards employers were willing to invite him for an interview based on the strength of his academic credentials. “The academic rigour had also instilled in me a sense of confidence and discipline. Moreover, the multiple group projects had helped inculcate the team spirit and communication skills to work in multicultural teams. In today’s globalised world, I find this ability crucial for a successful international career.”