1. Background detail about the initiative

  • Title of the initiative described by the case study: VE within the Business school, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands
  • Contributor of the case study:
    • Casper van der Heijden
    • Ana Beaven
  • Key informant:
  • Data sources used for the case study: EVOLVE report – https://pure.rug.nl/ws/portalfiles/portal/151946440/EVOLVE_Case_Studies_Report_Final_201223.pdf
  • URL of initiative: unknown
  • University behind the initiative:
    • Hogeschool Utrecht (HU)
    • Utrecht University of Applied Science

2. Introduction to the case: brief history and goals of the initiative

The Utrecht University of Applied Sciences has Virtual Exchange positioned as part of the IaH strategy. internationalisation efforts are not centrally organised at the university but expected to be pursued bottom up. This means that VEs are introduced within departments by educators with support of the International Affairs team. At the Business School, however, a more centralised approach has been adopted where the Director of International Affairs actively encourages and supports educators in integrating VE in its courses.

As a result, the business school has various courses that have a VE component as part of it. As mentioned in the EVOLVE Case Study report, the Business school has two types of VE activities, ‘the discipline-based VE, and intercultural dialogue based VE. The discipline-based VE usually follows a COIL model that brings two partner universities together to focus on co-learning around their specific subject matter. The content in this case is leading and the core of the learning experience, and online exchange is an instrument to achieve that in an international setting. Students collaborate on professional tasks for example related to finance and accounting with their peers from colleges in other countries. These take place for the most part with partner institutions that HU has worked with previously on student mobility. The intercultural dialogue VE came about through partnerships with VE providers such as Soliya, SPF and UNICollaboration. The core of the learning experience in this type of VE is more deliberately geared towards building global perspectives and global competencies that are essential for 21st century work readiness and which align very well with the university’s internationalisation goals. For the intercultural dialogue type VE, the online exchange is the core experience, and the content is an instrument to achieve these broader learning goals, such as critical thinking and self-awareness, intercultural understanding, intercultural communication and collaboration.’ (P.94, https://pure.rug.nl/ws/portalfiles/portal/151946440/EVOLVE_Case_Studies_Report_Final_201223.pdf)

The Intercultural dialogue-based VEs were organised under the umbrella of the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange project. The main dialogue-based Virtual Exchange was the Connect Program offered by Soliya, which was piloted as a required component in International Communication and later became integrated in a 3rd-year course called Strategic Management which was taken by 120-140 students each year. The Discipline-based VEs followed the COIL model, whereby educators themselves design and organise the VE, often with partner universities with whom they already have mobility agreements. As a consequence, the discipline-based VEs were integrated in various courses at different departments at the Business School whereby 200+ students take part in the exchanges each year.

3. Key aspects

The key aspects that are of particular importance in the integration of Virtual Exchange at the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences starts with the central support and encouragement from key staff at the Business School. VE as part of the IaH in itself is insufficient, the active involvement of central supporting staff at the Business School encouraging educators to adopt VE as a mechanism for Internationalisation at Home and supporting them in the realisation of such virtual exchanges has led to the broad integration of virtual exchanges in various courses across different departments at the Business School. 

The integration of the VES at the Business school and the required resources vary per type of VE. As noted by the Director of International Affairs Ms. Offereins, ‘some partners such as Soliya and SPF provide a great technical platform that doesn’t require any additional investments from the university, students can just join from their laptop, from any location, and without any added software. But for other forms of VE, we need to provide on campus rooms with screens, or access to skype or zoom.’ (p. 95 https://pure.rug.nl/ws/portalfiles/portal/151946440/EVOLVE_Case_Studies_Report_Final_201223.pdf)

4. Lessons Learnt and Transferability Opportunities

One of the main challenges is the additional workload associated with implementing this type of initiative (or any new initiative for that matter). Ensuring professors are trained and supported in this process is therefore vital. Networking within a Department or the University can ensure that those with more experience can support ‘newcomers’ by showing them the most logical and effective way to integrate VE into their courses, while the latter can then focus more on the content of the project as they learn from their colleagues’ past experiences.

At the Business School, the International Affairs office supports students, staff, and educators with internationalisation. However, other departments lack the means to offer this type of support, which means professors may be reluctant to embark on this type of initiative.

In addition, according to the report, “not all educators are enthusiastic to consider international partnerships, and do not always see the value of it in relation to their subject matter. It is often not easy to convince educators that VE, or an international component in general, would align with their discipline. The connection between VE and global citizenship isn’t always understood”, despite the fact that the university’s 2026 strategy foregrounds global citizenship. “This is a perfect match for VE”, Ms Offereins, Director of International Affairs at HU Business School, explains, “the soil is ready, our biggest task is to continue building awareness and particularly around how VE is aligned with the core university strategy. There is just not enough understanding around its full potential.”