The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) is an international graduate school of policy-oriented social science. It brings together students and teachers from the Global South and North in an European environment. The ISS vision on internationalisation is maybe not clearly formulated in elaborate policy documents, but is clearly embedded in the ISS mission and in every ISS activity.
What makes ISS unique is that the international component is present in every corner of the institute; from the signposts in the building to the external assessors of final dissertations.
The Institute’s staff is drawn from around 30 countries from all over the world. The multicultural community at ISS offers an excellent learning environment both inside and outside the classroom, in which students can gain from each other’s diverse experience.
The educational practice at ISS revolves around notions of student-centred learning: throughout the MA programme, emphasis is placed on the relationship between students’ own professional experience and academically oriented course work
The ISS vision on internationalisation is maybe not clearly formulated in elaborate policy documents, but is clearly embedded in the ISS mission and in every ISS activity.
The ISS vision is reflected in four characteristics:
• Teaching focuses on ‘real world’ problems: ISS teaching programmes are geared to dealing with issues that are felt to be important concerns of developing countries or countries in transition, or pressing worldwide issues.
• Education at ISS is ‘policy-oriented’: the choice of topics in the ISS educational programmes is not informed, in the first place, by academic or disciplinary concerns, but by the importance that ISS’ major target audiences attach to problems. Students are trained to acquire competencies for independent analysis of specific societal or global problems and situations with a view to designing measures aimed at addressing these problems and situations.
• Teaching is explicitly multidisciplinary in nature: the type of ‘real-world’ issues that are central to ISS teaching require insights that cross academic disciplinary boundaries. In order to provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills to analyze problems and contribute to policy options, ISS teaching programmes draw on a variety of disciplines across the social sciences.
• ISS teaching programmes are comparative: teaching at ISS is based on the awareness that problems are usually not unique to specific geographical areas, and that cross-country comparison is helpful in finding approaches to address those problems. Making use of both the multinational composition of the ISS student body and the involvement of ISS staff in international projects, teaching programmes apply insights derived from different national contexts. The multicultural community at ISS offers a learning environment both inside and outside the classroom where students can gain from each other’s diverse experience.
According to the NVAO panel the international focus of the institute is indeed a vision on internationalisation. The main characteristics of the vision are ingrained in ISS.
First of all the whole infrastructure for international students is important, for it is not self-evident that foreign students feel directly at home in the Netherlands.
Almost all ISS students come from abroad and everyone in the institute knows that the ISS-employees constitute the social environment for the student.
For ISS it goes without saying that it has a Welfare Office that coordinates and organises activities for international students, that is prepared to and has the time to listen to their worries and that can act immediately when students are confronted with calamities at home.
Caring for international students starts at the very beginning; in marketing material, the website, letters to applicants, and signposting in the building: the official language in the institute is English.
As soon as new students arrive in the Netherlands, they will be welcomed at the airport by one of the current students (often from their home country) who accompanies them to the ISS (Schiphol Network). Housing has been arranged, as well as internet access. The ISS building has a “meditation room” where there is room for all religions. Next to the social assistance for students within ISS, the ISS organised a network of doctors (one of them has a regular office/hour within the building) and of psychologists, who are expertised in working with people from different cultures.
At the start of each and every programme we spend a lot of attention to intercultural communication and gender differences, next to an elaborate introduction to Information Literacy, academic skills, additional English lessons and computer skills, including the possibility to acquire the European Computer Driving Licence.
There are lots of attention for sports , for cultural activities as well as for debate, next to more or less standard introduction activities in the Netherlands and hobby activities.
Because there are hardly any Dutch students in ISS, the International Student Union Scholas is the only student union. Scholas has regular meetings with the Institute Board, and international students are represented in all committees.
The departure phase needs as much attention as the time of arrival and the whole stay. ISS organises closing activities, like a Farewell diner, but also a “Going Home” workshop to prepare the students for the culture shock they could easily experience after returning.
ISS puts quite some effort in making contacts between international students and the Dutch. The ISS neighbours are welcome at the International Day (where the international students present their own culture by singing and dancing) and the International Food Fair, where students cook typical food from their own country.
At the Dutch Evening it is the other way around; there ISS staff presents typical Dutch activities and typical Dutch delicacies like liquorice and “stroopwafels” to the international student community.
Within living memory ISS has a programme “Meet the Dutch”; this is a Network where the international students are linked one-to-one to a Dutch family.
Another initiative is a project in cooperation with the WorldSchool Foundation. In this project ISS students are linked to Dutch pupils from secondary school who design projects for developing countries. The ISS students who come from these countries can provide direct feedback to the proposals and designs.
The unique feature is the way in which ISS brings together students and staff from almost all countries of the world, and the way in which this diversity is used in the teaching programme.
Exchange characteristics & opportunities
What we have to offer to other institutes is the results of our long experience in international education. We can show how our vision is present in every single activity, from the way in which we try to create an international community (by workshops on diversity but also by organising social events), to ensuring that all reading material is available online (no huge piles of paper to take home) to “English-speaking” coffee-machines.