Students as partners in the International Classroom at the University of Groningen, Netherlands.

By Kevin Haines, University of Groningen.

Originally posted 13 November 2017.

In the Netherlands, there is a strong tradition of student involvement in designing social and employment-related activities through Study Associations, which are student-led and embedded alongside programmes – think of talks by alumni or future employers, and social activities during the introduction weeks at the start of the year. The International Classroom (IC) project at University of Groningen is currently prioritising its work with these Study Associations because of the role they can play in including all students (both Dutch and non-Dutch) in activities in the ‘informal curriculum’ (see Leask 2015). Recently we have become interested in the concept of ‘engaging students as partners in global learning’, which is the topic of Dr Wendy Green’s fellowship.

The concept of ‘students as partners’ has been described in detail by Mick Healey and colleagues (for example Healey, Flint & Harrington 2016). Healey et al (2016) provide a conceptual model of ‘students as partners in learning and teaching in HE’ that allows us to map a variety of partnerships/engagement with students in HE. Healey et al have noted that students have traditionally been excluded from some areas of university activity, such as curriculum design. This resonates with our experience in Groningen, as we experience students being welcomed as partners in certain areas of university activity but excluded from others.

We believe that it is possible that when using existing structures, such as existing study association networks, as our basis for student involvement, we may offer only limited participation, and that the existing structures may limit more meaningful inclusion across a wider range of activities. Furthermore, such structures (such as Study Associations) may be better at including certain students than others, or may (often unwittingly) exclude non-local students from activities. This concern has become more pressing in recent years because an increasing number of our Bachelor’s programmes are delivered through English, with the result that an ever larger proportion of students than before are non-Dutch by origin.

This issue was discussed during a session at the 2017 EAIE conference, which included a presentation by University of Groningen alumnus Hanna Berretz alongside Wendy Green (UTas) and Susanna Koistinen of Aalto University (Student Union), Finland.

We are therefore starting to look at the way all students can become involved as partners in HE in our institution, describing some good practices that are emerging, sometimes in pilots. As well as working with Study Associations, we are looking at examples of the involvement of students in the re-design of specific learning activities in courses at Law and Industrial Engineering & Management. In these cases, students who have previously taken the courses are involved in rethinking the design of activities to take into account the diversity of the group and to ensure that this diversity of backgrounds becomes a resource in the learning. This is proving to be a transformative experience not only for the students but also for the lecturers involved; for example, in becoming more aware of the impact of intercultural issues on the interactions in teaching and learning, and how to deal with this in practice.

Meanwhile, Master’s students are increasingly taking on teaching assistant roles in Bachelor’s programmes. This gives them the opportunity to exchange learning experiences with their younger counterparts and develop new perspectives. For instance, Master’s students who had studied in a Dutch version of an Industrial Engineering & Management programme reported that Bachelor’s students studying in the (new) international English Medium instruction programme were producing work at a higher level than the work they themselves had produced at the comparable stage of their own studies (Haines 2017: 54). Such reflections may grow through the involvement of these Masters students as partners in the educational process. Furthermore, alongside the curriculum across the university, older students are increasingly being employed to mentor or buddy younger students and to ensure that students from other places are included in the local student culture, and we are interested in the type of training such buddies and mentors need in order to facilitate the inclusion of all students (from diverse backgrounds).

In the above contexts, the IC project therefore represents an opportunity to reconsider the relations of the institution with all students, and to consider the inclusion of all students (Dutch and non-Dutch) as partners in activities in both the formal and informal curriculum.


Haines, K. (2017). Purposeful interaction and the professional development of content teachers: observations of small-group teaching and learning in the international classroom. In Jennifer Valcke & Robert Wilkinson (Eds.), Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education: Perspectives on Professional Practice.Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 39-58.

Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2016). Students as partners: Reflections on a conceptual model. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 4(2).

Leask, B. (2015). Internationalizing the curriculum. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.