Written By: 
Rik Peelen*

*Erasmus Generation Perspective articles are written by ESN volunteers to share the student voice on current policy developments in the field of international education. The text represents the authors' individual perspective and not an official statement of the Erasmus Student Network.

Dutch university campuses are “bursting at the steams", the Danish government agreed to reduce the number of courses offered in English at higher education institutions, and Brexit deterred international students from applying to UK universities. In the last few months and years, the position of the international student in the various European countries is upon discussion, as well as the debate surrounding the need for more internationalisation. Therefore: is internationalisation at risk? The Erasmus Generation believes in the enrichment of society through international students and that the international dimension of life will help improve international education and create positive change in society. 

The international student community in the Netherlands, Denmark and the UK account for a significant share in the total student number. Respectively, 103.000 in the Netherlands (Nuffic, 2021), which equals more than 25%, 34.000 in Denmark (Educations, 2021) and 556.000 in the UK, which equals 22% (HESA, sd), are enrolled in the current academic year. Why would one try to cap the number of international students or decrease international education? The fact is that international students significantly contribute to the national economy of a country. Research has shown that ten international students arriving from outside the EU will generate £1m of net economic impact during studies in the UK (Adams, 2021). International students in Denmark contribute 1 billion DKK annually to the Danish economy (ESN Denmark, 2021), and international students in the Netherlands contribute at least €740 million euros per year to the Dutch economy (Wittenborg, sd).

Besides the economic gains, one can also not neglect the social and cultural benefits of the international student. On the one hand, international classrooms lead to improved learning outcomes, foster intercultural skills and create international networks preparing both international and domestic students for living and working in a globalised world (Reinold, 2018). The transnational contacts students encounter offers opportunities to foster relationships, connections and life-long friendships between globally diverse learners. On the other hand, higher education institutions benefit academically and financially from internationalisation in higher education. For example, internationalisation improves the quality of education programmes because of increased international competition for the best students and academics. Thus, the academic reputation of an HEI can also increase.

As mentioned before, the internationalisation of higher education (IoHE) has many benefits. However, many challenges, unfortunately, also remain. Frequent challenges international students face upon arrival in the host country are issues of adjustment, language barriers, integration, discrimination, financial costs, restricted access to the labour- and housing market and other administrative and legal hurdles. Albeit, higher education institutions struggle with the influx of international students. Others argue that English-taught courses have a negative impact on the domestic language and culture and that international students crowed local students out (HOP, 2019). 

The internationalisation of Higher Education comes in many different forms. The European Students’ Union (ESU) and the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) recently published a joint position paper that international learning and learning mobility are key in the 21st century for acquiring and developing personal- and professional skills. Hence, mobility, blended learning or/and virtual exchange are also excellent tools for higher education institutions in increasing internationalisation. Hence, why in an increasingly connected and digital world, learning within a global context is more important than ever. Whether that is through (virtual) exchanges, internationalisation at home or student mobility, introducing international and intercultural dimensions into university courses are, therefore, key elements that support students in their preparation for this future (Gregesen-Hermans & Lauridsen, 2021).

In conclusion, the 21st-century international classroom requires the opportunity to acquire intercultural skills and experience the international dimensions to prepare students better for a cosmopolitan and globalised world. However, capping the number of incoming students or reducing the number of courses offered in English is not the way to manage internationalisation. Therefore, internationalisation also requires careful attention. So, it will not affect the quality of education or the students' experience. One way that could help Higher Education Institutions safeguard internationalisation is the work of local ESN sections. ESN sections build bridges between international- and local students, help international students integrate into the local community and culture, and support students with the struggles they might face during their time abroad.