“Senior General Secondary Education is often the highest possible option in their home country”

Foundation Programme prepares international students for a bachelor’s at the UM


Some (potential) students from outside the European Union acquire their secondary school diploma with flying colours, but don’t have quite the qualifications needed for a study programme at Maastricht University. For those who nevertheless want to do so, there is the Foundation Programme. In this one-year study programme, participants are prepared for a bachelor’s at the UM. The 2020/2021 batch started at the end of October.

The programme has existed since 2013 and whereas it initially attracted nine students, the figure is 44 this academic year, says Andrew Oringer, marketing co-ordinator of the programme and one of the lecturers. “We even had 62 last year. The number is most likely lower now due to COVID-19.” The participants from countries such as China, Nigeria and the United States are all youths who did well in secondary school, but whose diplomas were not regarded as the equivalent of pre-university education by Nuffic, the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education. “HAVO, or Senior General Secondary Education, is often the highest possible type of secondary education in their country.”

At the start of the programme in 2013, participants went on to do any of five bachelor’s, including European Public Health and International Business. That number is now twelve, says Oringer. Digital Society and the Maastricht Science Programme, for example, have been added to the list. “With more on the way as UM continues to grow.” Before they embark upon the programme, the foreign students already know which bachelor’s programme they are going to do. “They have already been accepted to the bachelor’s on condition that they successfully complete the Foundation Programme.” They are given subject-specific introduction courses, and skills training such as ‘academic writing’, ‘giving presentations’ and ‘giving feedback’. Moreover, at the end of the year, they know Problem-based Learning like the back of their hands, says Oringer. For participants whose English is not up to scratch, the programme also includes language classes.

Dangerous cycling
The upcoming UM students are from all corners of the world. A random selection of the countries: Iran, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, India, and China. Every year, the largest group comes from that last country, says Oringer. “It is approximately 30 per cent this year.” One of them is Lesley Li (19). She wants to do International Business next academic year. It is not new for her to be studying so far from home, she says. “I did secondary school in Switzerland. The Chinese education system is very stressful. You work towards a notorious general exam and if you don’t do well, you cannot go to a good school.” In short: your future depends entirely on that one exam. “I was not able to deal with that stress very well and I wanted to leave China. My parents allowed me to go to Switzerland because I could stay with a host family there.”
At the time of the interview, she had been in Maastricht for three days. She has noticed “that people here speak very good English”. One thing is sure: “I will not be buying a bicycle.” Cycling looks way to scary, she says. “I live in the centre of town, so I can go everywhere on foot. Maybe next year.”
Social life is a little topsy-turvy at the moment because of COVID-19, but until now that hasn’t been a problem. “In the past two months, I have been to almost every party there was in Beijing,” she laughs. “That is possible there again; there are no COVID-19 infections anymore. There was a strict quarantine. Maybe the Chinese are more obedient?”

"In love" with Global Studies
Her American classmate Lilli Dejordy (19) does have a bicycle, but doubt she will use it anytime soon. “There is so much traffic: cars, bicycles, pedestrians. Who has right of way?” She is also relying on Shank’s pony for the time being. Like her classmate, the American has had some ‘Europe experience’. She spent a few months in a Danish secondary school last year. That is where she heard about the UM and “fell in love” with the bachelor’s of Global Studies. She wants to start in 2021/2022. “I’m interested in diplomacy. I would like to get a job at the state department in the US at some stage.” She is wildly enthusiastic about the study programme. The fact that social life has all but come to a grinding halt because of COVID-19, is not all that terrible, she feels. It leaves more time to study.
She is first going to do the Foundation Programme because “apparently my ‘high school’ diploma is worth nothing in Europe. I should have done more APs [Advanced Placements: special subjects at a higher level, ed.].”
English is her mother tongue, so in that regard Dejordy has more time to study than her classmates.

Six foot, on a good day
Koseku Ikpeazu (17) is still in Nigeria. He had to pick up his visa in Ghana, as the consulate in Nigeria was closed because of COVID-19. “I will be coming to Maastricht as quickly as possible,” he says via Zoom, his aim is to do the bachelor’s of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. Especially the Artificial Intelligence component appeals to him.
The Netherlands is completely different to his homeland, but he is certain that he will quickly get used to everything. Europe is actually not completely new to him. He has been on holiday to Belgium and France, and he visited his older brother in Switzerland.
Because of his young age, Ikpeazu took a gap year last year. He spent many hours at various basketball camps. How tall is he? “Six foot [converted that is 1.83m, ed.] on a good day,” he laughs. “Write that down, ha.” He wants to play in Maastricht too. “When it becomes possible again with this pandemic.” Nigeria is doing relatively well with regard to COVID-19, he says. “About a thousand deaths in a population of almost two hundred million.”

“Senior General Secondary Education is often the highest possible option in their home country”
vrithof photo