Groningen not mandatory for Chinese students

Based upon a pending governmental decree, Chinese students from the Yantai campus will not be required to come to Groningen in order to get a degree from the RUG.

That was announced during a meeting on Wednesday afternoon about the latest developments in the Yantai branch campus plans. A mix of around 60 staff members and students were present at the meeting in the Geertsema Hall in the Academy building to hear from professor Ming Cao and president Sibrand Poppema.

Not mandatory

Although Dutch law currently requires students from Dutch institutions abroad to come to the Netherlands for one year of their education – or 25 per cent of their degree programme – in order to get a Dutch diploma, the Chinese government is evidently unwilling to accept that requirement. They do not want to make it mandatory that Chinese students must go abroad to complete their degree.

Subsequently, President Poppema revealed that that law will be brought to an end by a governmental decree in order to make the University of Groningen Yantai (UGY) plans possible. Although education minister Jet Bussemaker publicly stated her wish to change this rule last year and has already submitted a letter to the Dutch parliament about making the changes, it has yet to be formalised.

But Poppema reiterated how in favour the Dutch government, specifically the ministry of education, is of increased collaboration with China: ‘The ministry thinks it’s for the good of the country’, he said. Poppema met with minister Bussemaker and a Chinese vice-minister of education last week in The Hague.

Fewer Chinese students

If the law is changed, that would mean that far fewer Chinese students would likely end up coming to Groningen than initially projected. Poppema had previously made the case that if 1,500 Chinese students from Yantai were to study here for at least one year, that could result in an additional 15 million euros for the RUG which could in turn be used to hire additional staff.

While Dutch lawmakers are evidently open to changing the regulations in favour of this plan, if the Chinese side calls for too many concessions from the RUG, Poppema said that could be grounds to choose not to proceed with the branch campus. Poppema also said that if it appears that the quality of research cannot be guaranteed in Yantai, that would also be a reason to call off the plans.

‘We want it to be a research environment, so we are requesting lab space, investments in research facilities – which Shandong has indicated they are willing to make – and start up packets for professors who will not have grants in the beginning’, he says. ‘And if that is not working out to our satisfaction, that is a no go. We are not interested in only offering education in China.’

First programmes

The meeting also confirmed which programmes will be going abroad initially. The first ones to be taught in Yantai will be coming from the Faculty of Mathematics & Natural Sciences and the Faculty of Economics & Business. The programmes that have been chosen are the Chemistry, Industrial Engineering & Management, Life Sciences & Technology, and Economics & Business Economics bachelors, and the Chemical Engineering and International Economics & Business masters.

Poppema said that the plan is to add four more bachelors each year up to a total of 20, and more master’s programmes – at least ten – are also planned to eventually be added. Providing the plans proceed, there would be a separate accreditation committee for UGY than there is for the RUG. Although they will technically be separate institutions, president Poppema says that research conducted at UGY will also count as research of the RUG due to staff in China having a joint appointment at the RUG.

When questioned about the role of codetermination in the plans, Poppema sought to emphasise the efforts for inclusion that have been made by the university leadership. ‘In the new strategic plan for a branch campus, the council has a say. At the RUG, we make use of the harmony model, so we consult the council about everything.’

Military training

Before Poppema began speaking, professor Ming Cao gave a presentation about Chinese education and mentioned that part of the first year of education at Chinese universities is a couple of weeks of military training. President Poppema confirmed that that is a requirement for Chinese students, but not for non-Chinese students.

While English courses and helping students adapt to the more Dutch style of education are meant to be the focus of the first year, the military training in combination with the required Marxism courses prompted a question about how effective efforts to teach independent thinking could be. Poppema responded that teaching the students with the Dutch principles of education is probably the most important part of the preparatory year, and that it is also something that the Chinese government is in favour of.

In addition to increasing the RUG’s visibility and reputation in China, Poppema also emphasised how vitally important it is for Dutch universities to find more students since the numbers will drop dramatically as of 2020. Since research funding is allocated regardless of student enrolment numbers, some of the staff members present questioned whether the RUG should pursue more students or not.


Poppema’s response was, ‘We may not need more students, but we also don’t need less students.’ He also pointed out that the government’s intentions to use funding to hire more staff could come at the expense of money allocated to students and would only be possible in 2018, and said that the public cannot always believe that what the government says it will do will come to pass.

The timing of the plans, which were announced in March and will be decided on definitively in October, has been a cause for concern for staff across the university, but Poppema reiterated that there is a limited window of opportunity. The current Chinese government reportedly wants to cap the number of Sino-foreign collaborations, like the one between the RUG and China Agricultural University, to ten. The officials in the Chinese government are also due to change later this year, and Poppema stressed that Groningen may miss its opportunity to pursue a branch in China if the university was to wait.