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Smooth landing for students from afar

Smooth landing for students from afar

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Foundation Programme prepares for its bachelor’s first year

MAASTRICHT. Foreign students who do not meet the entry requirements for a university bachelor’s programme, will get made-to-measure education in Maastricht for a year. The so-called Foundation Programme will prepare them for European Public Health, International Business or Economics and Business Economics. There are plans for an expansion of the number of study programmes.

Maastricht University already has the Pre-Med Programme, which prepares mostly students from the Middle East for the study of Medicine. Just like the latter programme, the Foundation Programme that has existed since 2013 will contribute to further internationalisation of Maastricht University. It is meant for students from outside the European Union who scored well on their secondary school exams, but still do not meet with the entry requirements set by internationalisation organisation Nuffic. “Their diploma is rated on a level of higher general continued education, (havo), often there is no grammar school in their country,” say the responsible officials Dickson Kombo and Joris van Poecke. The very best are welcome in Maastricht and with the intensive programme – sixteen contact hours a week –, supervision by a mentor (“another student, who knows what it is to be a student”) and a weekly cultural training “they are given a smooth landing in Maastricht”.

They come from far: China, America, Russia, or Thailand. They will receive English language lessons for a year, training in academic skills such as writing, giving presentations and working within the problem-based learning system, subject-specific courses relating to the bachelor’s programme (statistics, mathematics and an introduction to the field) and a sociocultural section. The latter also contains a training in ‘Dealing with the Dutch’.  Van Poecke: “We are thinking about adding a basic course in Dutch, although a second language can be confusing if your level of English is not good enough.”

Dropout numbers in the first batch in 2013 were rather high. “It was a group of nine. Some turned out to have little idea of what a bachelor’s study entailed, and dropped out. Others received a binding negative study advice for International Business or Economics and Business Economics and transferred to a school of higher vocational education. Those who chose European Public Health, are doing well. As a result of this experience, we have adapted the programme and our information services. The second batch, from which some are now in the first year of International Business, are doing well so far.”

Entry numbers currently range around ten, but from the next academic year onward, the number will have to rise to 25, to end up with around fifty in the future. Is that realistic? Kombo, who previously acted as recruiter abroad for the universities of Nyenrode and Wageningen, has complete faith in it. “We are reasonably cheap with tuition fees of 12 thousand euro, compared to the rest of the world.” At the same time, he does realise that it is a lot of money. But it is not possible for less, Van Poecke adds, because the UM does not receive a government subsidy for this programme. Some students have a grant from their own country, but others pay for the foundation course with their own money. “Unfortunately the UM has no grants for this course.”


Four students’ views

On Monday morning four students take a seat in the common room of the Foundation Programme. They come from all corners of the world and have one thing in common. They speak perfect English. Mpande Kapotwe from Zambia (23), now a first-year student of International Business, did primary and secondary education in English. The same goes for his fellow-students Masa Mihailovic from Serbia (18), Puunvasa Good from Thailand/America (18) and Noura Almesned from Saudi Arabia (19). Kapotwe: “My mam works and lives in the United States. I speak two Zambian languages and English.” It was his aunt, who works at Hogeschool Zuyd, who told him about the Foundation Programme at Maastricht University. “I only knew the Netherlands from football, I am a fan of Robin van Persie and Manchester United. I myself played full time for a year in Lusaka and I am now a regular member of the first team for the Maastricht club Willem 1.”

Kapotwe, who lives with his aunt, felt he was well prepared when he started at IB last September. “I already knew the seven jumps of PBL, knew how the library and Eleum work. So far it’s going well. Only maths is a bit of a problem. I do feel comfortable in the Netherlands but I would like to meet more people from Zambia.”

Masa Mihailovic, Puunvasa Good and Noura Almesned are now doing the Foundation Programme. No, they say in unison, it is not difficult. But that has a lot to do with the fact that they are quite fluent in English, so they can skip the English language lessons. Good adds: “After secondary school, I did a two-year International Baccalaureate which would provide me with entry into a university study. I did not get a diploma because I failed chemistry. That programme was much tougher. This programme is a stepping-stone for me to the study programme. Fortunately I now have time to set up an import and export company for make-up and perfume.” He partly chose Maastricht because having completed studies in Asia and America he now wanted to study in Europe. Besides, his girlfriend, with whom he now lives in Maastricht, is from Tongeren, Belgium.

It was Serbian Masa Mihailovic’s father who recommended her to leave Kuwait (where her family lives) and go to Maastricht. “It was a choice between Groningen and Maastricht. But my father said that the south of The Netherlands was prettier and more international because of its many borders. And the weather is better here.” Her father was right, she thinks. “The people are very friendly, they greet me when they see me in the mornings. I never need to feel bored; there is always something to do. Besides, I love standing on my own two feet, independent of my parents, even though I love them very much. ” There is really only one minor point: “I don’t know many people. There are only nine of us. I would like the group to be much larger.” The others can only agree with this. They would also like to enlarge their circle of friends. They need to promote the programme more, “I am sure a lot of people would be interested,” Noura Almesned thinks. She lived in Wassenaar for the past three years, where her father works for an oil company. She knows the Netherlands, but not the language. She was planning on going to study in England, but upon her parents’ insistence – “my father’s contract was extended, my parents love the Netherlands”- she chose the UM. She wants to go and study at University College in September. “There you can choose your own programme. I want to do International Relations and Law. It’s hard? No problem. I can work hard.”




2015-03-11: Steve
Dear Riki Janssen,

I enjoyed this article very much. What caught my attention was the part about the dutch drop out rate and the negative Binding Study Advice. It is a uncommon rule implemented in Universities around the world, yet the Netherlands - having high quality higher education - uses it to the fullest extent to keep high standards despite their low entry level requirements. It reflects the social norms which the country adopts. I myself actually graduated from Maastricht University and do not regret it one bit! :)

I actually work as a freelance legal consultant specialized in advising students on their rights when faced with a negative Binding Study Advice (

There are certain legal requirements - substantive and procedural - which must be met in order for a negative BSA to be final and valid, regardless of the amount of credits. It is quite aweful to see how many international students have to face staggering emotional and financial consequences if they are even just one credit shy of getting into the next year.

I hope to enlightne future Students who come to study in the Netherlands that the education is not easy. But the experience is unforgetabble!

Once again, I enjoyed the article! Takes me back to my maastricht years.

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