Curacao) It’s all about work ethics

The University of the Dutch Caribbean educates critical students

Twenty-five years ago, Ruud Thuis wondered what he could mean for the business community in Curacao. Together with a business partner, the ‘entrepreneur with a social focus’ started The University of the Dutch Caribbean. It is a university that meets the demands of the business world and the needs of students in many ways.

Ruud Thuis, director of The University and College of the Dutch Caribbean, likes to call himself an ‘enterprising educator’. He studied Dutch language and literature in the Netherlands, but his interest in marketing and economics drove him into the arms of business and entrepreneurship. Back at his birthplace Curacao, he discovered there was an insufficient supply of young people who could be of professional significance for several sectors like banking, sports, and tourism. He decided to work on his passion to transfer his knowledge and to serve the market with quality. In 1994, together with business partner and co-director Cyriel van der Vegt, he founded The University of the Dutch Caribbean (UDC). A university at MBO and Bachelor level ‘that puts the student in the center’, and also meets the most important need of businessowners and companies. ‘I have asked many companies what they think is the most important thing we can do as a training institute’, says Thuis. ‘The answer is always: deliver students with a good attitude and great work ethics.’For Thuis, this demand was the main reason to put the students first. ‘We facilitate the students on their way to a profession. In order to deliver critical people, we must challenge them to develop themselves. At many MBO schools in this region, wearing a school uniform is mandatory. We encourage students to make their own clothing choices. Because that is actually where decision-making already starts.’

The Market in the Classroom
The UDC also regularly organizes trips abroad. ‘Many students have never been off the island’, explains Thuis. ‘Such a journey is like a window that opens, which is very good for the general development of the students.’ And it works. Every year, the UDC conducts research into the satisfaction of the companies that offer internship placements to the students. According to the director, over ninety percent say they want to hire the students, if they have a job offer.Meanwhile, the UDC has grown into a real business school with fourteen bachelor programs at HBO level. Over sixty lecturers take care of the transfer of knowledge and experience in fields like business economics, accountancy, sports management, law and banking and insurance. ‘Almost all teachers come straight from practice,’ tells Thuis with a certain pride. ‘We literally have the market in front of our students. After each module, we ask the teachers whether the course material offered is still in line with the actual market. By doing so, we stay sharp.’

The College of the Dutch Caribbean (CDC) works in the same way. This branch of the educational institute provides MBO programs such as administrator, social pedagogical worker, sports coordinator, secretary, commercial assistant marketing and communication and ITC network administrator at level 3 and 4. Recently, a Leisure and Hospitality training was added. In addition, the training institute provides training for the private sector through KEY Corporate and the Government Academy Caribbean (GAC). The academy was set up ten years ago and offers lectures, training, and workshops at an administrative level. This in collaboration with the Dutch Nyenrode Business University, with which GAC offers the Good Corporate Governance training as well. ‘It’s worth it,’ responds Thuis. ‘Well-educated people are better prepared for their administrative task. That has its effect on the island, both in business and at government level.’

“Almost all teachers come straight from practice”

For all these programs the usual professional practice is normative. And it is paying off. ‘The UDC provides vocational education as it should be’, according to the Nederlands Vlaamse Accreditatie Organisatie (NVAO), the institute that tests the quality of HBO and academic education in the Netherlands and Flemish Belgium. ‘We do not need the recognition of NVAO, because we have already been recognized by the local government,’ explains Thuis. ‘Still, this accreditation is important for us. It helps to stay self-critical. That is also the reason why we are a recognized university in the Netherlands and the United States up to the highest level.’The UDC doesn’t receive any governmental subsidy and has to pay for everything with tuition fees. ‘This makes us completely independent’, Thuis clarifies. ‘It enables us to work more dynamically. We can respond directly to market demands. And employees have the opportunity to implement good ideas immediately like a yoga training for the sports-oriented classes.’

Carousel Programs
To create his own demand, Thuis is passionately engaged in realizing his biggest dream: an international school, a global network of universities and higher professional education courses that work together on the highest level. ‘We want to be an ‘international classroom’ with UDC. I have a son of seventeen who has finished his high school. He does want to continue his education in the Netherlands, but also in Switzerland and the United States, just to name a few. It would be wonderful to achieve a kind of carousel program with the other universities worldwide. Everything under one roof, no transfer problems and classes that seamlessly connect. That would really contribute to the improvement of language skills. Moreover, the cultural intelligence of students will go up and it will enable them to expand their cultural network.’By way of advance, the UDC now offers Bachelor degree programs in International Business and International Communication in English. With this, the institute, currently still populated by local students for ninety per cent, wants to attract more international students. ‘People look upwards’, elaborates Thuis. ‘Colombians and Venezuelans want to go to the United States or Europe, local students to the Netherlands or America. We are able to lay a foundation in that student flow, we want to offer a first step towards cultural diversity and to improve their mastery of the English language with tailor-made modules.’This transnational education is also good for the local economy, Thuis adds. Because every student from the Netherlands, South America or the United States attracts about fourteen family members who come to celebrate Curacao during their study. ‘This way, the local economy would hugely benefit from the UDC as well.’

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