Dutch and British students benefit the least from international classroom

Dutch and British students benefit the least from international classroom

Ideal: four nationalities in the tutorial group

06-10-2021 · Science

The more international the tutorial group, the more the students gain from the education programme. That is a mantra used by universities time and again, but is it true? Not always, a study held among more than eight hundred Maastricht first-year students shows. Students achieve less when there are too many different nationalities in a group.

That students in an international classroom can lose their way is nothing new. Researchers have previously shown that various cultural backgrounds in education can go hand in hand with different expectations and a variety of communication, writing and studying styles. At the same time, other studies showed that students with different nationalities can work well together and also learn from each other. One of the outcomes was they appear to be better able to reflect.

But what would the ideal tutorial group look like? What does that mean for the study results? And how important is physical presence? Patrick Bijsmans (UM) and Arjan Schakel (University of Bergen, Norway), together with two former FASoS students, have described this in a scientific article that was recently published in the European Journal of Higher Education.


The authors investigated four cohorts of first-year students of the bachelor’s of European Studies in the period from 2012 to 2016. Of these 836 students, Germans formed the largest group (40 per cent), followed by the Dutch (14), Belgians (12), Italians (7) British (6) and other nationalities (21).

Of all these first-year students, they mapped how well they did in exams, how often they were physically present, and how many different nationalities there were in the tutorial group. The outcome: students do best in tutorial groups with three to six nationalities. The optimal number is four nationalities, which in a tutorial group of twelve for example, comes down to three students per country. Students then score on average a grade that is 0.5 to 0.8 points higher.

With only two nationalities, it can be more difficult to work together, says Bijsmans via Zoom. "You quickly get two groups doing their own thing. With seven or more nationalities, there is a risk of things getting lost in translation. You then have too many perspectives that need to be brought together. It means that you also have a lot of loners in the tutorial group. This could be a single Korean or Finnish person, who cannot check an English expression with a fellow countryman, for example."

Further research

Bijsmans advises faculties to pay more attention to the composition of the tutorial groups. Something that could also be included in didactic training for lecturers (BKO or CPD). "What, for example, would you do with that Korean or Finn? How can you ensure that they connect with the rest?"

Remarkably, Dutch and British students seem to benefit the least from the international classroom. "Maybe that is because of the language head start, the British and the Dutch have a better command of English than the other nationalities. Moreover, the Dutch are used to independent learning, which is already encouraged at secondary schools."

A condition for 'the ideal tutorial group' is that students are present at least 80 per cent of the time. The difference between 70 and 100 per cent attendance appears to be a full point. "Although we didn’t look at the way in which students are present. Some shut themselves off completely, others do pay attention but don’t say much, and others interact completely."

This will be dealt with in the follow-up survey, in which most Maastricht faculties will participate. "That study, which I will do together with Carla Haelermans from SBE, will also have a qualitative component, in which we ask students and lecturers about their experiences."

Photo: Pixabay

Categories: news_top, Science
Tags: international classroom,tutorial group,research

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