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Somos Sur


Academic year: 2023

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Graduate School of Social and Behavioural Sciences University of Amsterdam

Somos Sur 1 : International Students’

reflections on Inclusion and Diversity in Dutch Universities

MSc International Development Studies Master's Thesis

Valentina Estephania Latapiat Gutiérrez Student Number: 13610090


Amsterdam, August 2022

Word Count: 23.812

Thesis Supervisor: Dr. (Maggi) Leung Second Reader: Dr. (Mieke) Lopes Cardozo



‘Somos Sur’ (We are south) was raised from the convergence of the stories of the Latin American students that participated in this research and my perception of what it means to “build a community”. Some interviewees expressed that their sense of ‘being Latin American’ grew when they arrived in the Netherlands; others appreciated having culturally similar people nearby. ‘Somos Sur’

is my interpretation of the dreams and sacrifices of this community, which, although it recognises the cultural differences along the continent, is united in its similarities, creating social networks to feel more ‘close to home’.


I have read and understood the University of Amsterdam plagiarism policy [Available online:

http://student.uva.nl/mcsa/az/item/plagiarism-and-fraud.html?f=plagiarism]. I declare that this

master thesis is the product of my work, that all sources have been adequately acknowledged, and that I have not previously submitted this work or any version of it.

Amsterdam, 15th August 2022

Valentina Estephania Latapiat Gutiérrez



Over the past years, the Netherlands and other so-called ‘developed’ countries have invested considerably in internationalising their universities, increasing the International Student Mobility phenomenon. Despite the cultural diversity that this contributes to the configuration of Dutch university communities, the globalisation and standardisation of higher education plans can aggravate historical and social justice problems and the inclusion of cultural underrepresented groups. Due to the perpetuation of neo-colonial structures worldwide - following the three- dimensional framework of injustices in education by Nancy Fraser (1995) -social injustices in higher education continue to be camouflaged under action plans for inclusion and diversity, that generally only provoke superficial institutional changes. As we will see with Novelli, Lopes Cardozo and Smith’s reflections (2017), I applied the 4Rs framework - which combines dimensions of recognition, redistribution, representation, and reconciliation - to explore, through a social justice lens, and understand students’ and universities’ agency in reconfiguring higher education. Through an ethnographic and critical perspective, this master thesis deepens our understanding of what an

‘inclusive education’ means for Latin American students and universities. Drawing on a qualitative content analysis of inclusion and diversity policies in Dutch universities and in-depth interviews with Latin American students, this thesis analyses how their (past) study experiences influence their sense of belonging and personal development. This thesis delves into the difficulties generated when migrating and arriving in a new country and the support universities provide to international students during this process. In addition, the international development and education field must face challenges in inclusively improving educational spaces, enhancing the decolonisation of education, and implementing participatory methodologies that promote social justice through and in education.

Keywords: Sense of Belonging, Decolonising Education, International Student Mobility, Inclusion &

Diversity, Latin America, the Netherlands.



Slow and lengthy processes, full of richness, fear, and shadow. Suddenly, light. The people and the belief in a more justice society were my motivation for materialising this thesis. For that, I can only thank,

To my classmates and friends, for the constant support, the reflections, the nerves, the doubts, the friendship. This journey would have been very different without you.

To my flatmates, my family in Amsterdam, friends, Chiara, Eve, and Iñigo, you will always be my beloved Amsterdam family, thanks; thanks for always being there for me.; for always encouraging me to keep going even in difficult times, for believing in me, in my ideas and my capacities. I will be eternally grateful for all the love and understanding.

To my mum, dad, brother, and Chilean family, for always believing in me, for reminding me why

I started this path, for encouraging me to follow my dreams, and for showing me that a better

world is possible if we are united. Gracias a sus esfuerzos estoy aquí hoy, esto también es por ustedes.


Thanks to my supervisor Dr. (Maggi) Leung, for her advice and expertise, Dr. (Courtney) Vegelin, for always caring about my student's well-being and her availability to chat, and MIDS Study Advisor, Eva van der Sleen.

I also want to thank the counsel of Dr. (Mieke) Lopes Cardozo for encouraging me to think further, dream further, and show me that humanising education is one of the most powerful tools for change.

Finally, I would like to express my deepest thanks to my participants. Sin vosotros nada de

esto sería posible, y fuisteis el motor que me impulsó a seguir hasta el final de la ruta. Este trabajo va dedicado a vuestros esfuerzos y sueños, y para los sueños de aquellos que están por venir.

I should also thank myself for being brave and fighting to be where I am today; thank you for never giving up.

This thesis is for those who are coming and those who cleared the path. More justice and equal societies are coming.


Table of Contents

Abstract ____________________________________________________________________ 3 Acknowledgement ______________________________________________________________ 4 Table of Contents ______________________________________________________________ 6 List of Acronyms, Figures, and Tables ________________________________________________ 8

A. List of Acronyms ______________________________________________________ 8 [In Dutch: Voortgezet onderwijs] Secondary Education _____________________________ 9 B. List of Figures ________________________________________________________ 9 C. List of Tables _________________________________________________________ 9 D. List of Graphics _______________________________________________________ 9

1. Introduction ____________________________________________________________ 10

1.1 Phenomenon of study, literature review, and problem statement __________________ 10 1.2 Academic and social relevance ____________________________________________ 12 1.3 Knowledge gaps ____________________________________________________ 12 1.4 Research Question and Sub-questions ______________________________________ 13

2. Theoretical Framework _____________________________________________________ 15

2.1 Migrating for educational purposes: the globalisation of higher education ___________ 15 2.2 The multidimensional model of injustice: developing human capacities through Education _______________________________________________________________________ 16 2.3 Decolonising pedagogies: including other voices for enhancing social justice ______ 18 2.4 Inclusive higher education: personal development and the sense of belonging in

universities ______________________________________________________________ 20

2.5 Conceptual scheme _____________________________________________________ 22

3. Research Methodology ______________________________________________________ 24

3.1 Research Design and Methodology _________________________________________ 24

3.2 Units of Analysis and Observation _________________________________________ 24

3.3 Operationalisation _____________________________________________________ 24

3.4 Participants and Sample _________________________________________________ 25

3.5 Ethical Considerations and the Researcher’s positionality ________________________ 26

4. Research Context _________________________________________________________ 29

4.1 The Netherlands as the Research Location ___________________________________ 29

4.2 International Student Mobility in the Netherlands _____________________________ 29


4.3 The Dutch Higher Education System: structure and regulation ___________________ 32 4.4 Internationalising Higher Education: the case of the Netherlands __________________ 33

5. Empirical findings ________________________________________________________ 35

5.1 Inclusive Education in the international arena ________________________________ 35

5.1.1 The role of universities in Inclusion and Social Inclusion: the genesis of the D&I policies _______________________________________________________________ 37 5.2 Study experiences in Dutch universities: their influence on Latin American students’ Sense of Belonging and Inclusion _________________________________________________ 40

5.2.1 The adventure: migratory process and first experiences in the Netherlands _______ 41

5.2.2 From idea to action: experiencing through the academic year _________________ 45

5.2.3 The last decision: staying in the Netherlands or returning home? _______________ 54

5.3 The importance of including international students’ voices in decision-making: towards a

Participatory Culture in HE _________________________________________________ 57

6. Conclusions _____________________________________________________________ 61

6.1 Summary ____________________________________________________________ 61

6.2 Findings _____________________________________________________________ 63

6.3 Research limitations ____________________________________________________ 65

7. Practical recommendations ___________________________________________________ 66

7.1 Recommendations to universities: improving educational experiences ______________ 66

7.2 Recommendations for future investigations __________________________________ 68

8. References ______________________________________________________________ 69 9. Appendices _____________________________________________________________ 76

9.1 Dutch universities' positions in the International Rankings _______________________ 76

9.3 List of Respondents ____________________________________________________ 77

9.3 Operationalization table _________________________________________________ 79

9.4 Questionnaire and interview guides ________________________________________ 83


List of Acronyms, Figures, and Tables

A. List of Acronyms


Amsterdam University College


Capability Approach


Center for Higher Education Policy Studies

COVID-19 Covid Disease 2019


Digital Object Identifier


Economic European Area


European Union


Erasmus Universiteit van Amsterdam


[In Dutch: Hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs] Higher general continued education


[In Dutch: Hoger beroepsonderwijs] Higher professional education


Higher Education


[In Dutch: Hoger Onderwijs Onderzoeks Plan] Higher Education and Research Plan


Inclusive Development


Inclusive Education


International English Language Testing System


Integral human development theory


[In Dutch: Immigratie - En Naturalisatiedienst] Immigration and Naturalization Service


International Organisation


International Organization for Migration


Inclusive Participatory Action Research


International Students


International Student Mobility


Latin America

LGBTIQ Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, intersex and queer


[In Dutch: Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur, en Wetenschap] Ministry of Education, culture, and science


The Netherlands

NUFFIC Netherlands Universities Foundation for International Cooperation


[In Dutch: Nederlandse Vereniging voor de Verenigde Naties] Dutch Association for the United Nations


Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development


Research Question


Sustainable Development Goals



UL Universiteit van Leiden UN

United Nations

UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization USA

United States of America



Universiteit van Utrecht


Universiteit van Amsterdam


[In Dutch: Voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs] Preparatory middle-level applied education

VO [In Dutch: Voortgezet onderwijs] Secondary Education VU

Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam


[In Dutch: voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs] Preparatory scientific education


[In Dutch: Wet op het Hoger onderwijs en wetenschappelijk onderzoek] Higher Education

and Research Act


[In Dutch: universiteiten] University

B. List of Figures



1. C


_______________________________________________ 22 F


2. T


_____________________________________________ 25 F


3. T


NL __________________________________ 29 F


4. S








_______________ 32 F


5. P








_ 37

C. List of Tables



1. C


_________________ 26 T


2. C






___________________________ 28 T


3. S







_____ 76 T


4. L




______________________________________________________________ 77 T


5. O




_________________________________________ 79

D. List of Graphics



1. N






, 2013 -

2020 ...31



2. I










1. Introduction

1.1 Phenomenon of study, literature review, and problem statement

International Student Mobility (ISM) is a growing phenomenon around the globe. In the Netherlands, NUFFIC (2022) accounted for 115.068 international students (ISs) in the academic year 2021-2022, representing 14% of all Dutch higher education students. Furthermore, 28% of these students came from outside the Economic European Area (EEA). Even though there was an increment of 13% compared to 2020-2021, incoming mobility was hardly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic (NUFFIC, 2022: 4).

Migrating is an action rooted in the history of humanity. Migratory flows variate based on societal, economic, cultural, and political aspects (Aroian, 2005, cited in Ndika, 2013: 1). In the ISM phenomenon, the main reason to migrate is education since it is perceived as one of the fundamental tools to enhance an individual’s development.

I am a migrant. I was born in Latin America but grew up in Europe, which makes me sensitive to people's complexities while migrating. After leaving their countries of origin, migrant people experience the acculturation period, which comprises different experiences of settlement and inclusion in the new country, which can be stressful. This period is described by Sam (2000) as “a process characterised by changes in one’s culture, which occurs when people adjust to the mainstream culture of a society” (cited in Ndika, 2013: 1).

By arriving in the Netherlands (NL) in the summer of 2021, I experienced the international environment in its cities. I also realised that international students were a vast group of migrants in the country. This fact caught my attention, addressing my curiosity about the challenging processes that non-European students face by coming to the Netherlands. Berry (1992) described the uncertainties of the acculturation period as acculturative stress (Ndika, 2013: 1) - situations that significantly impact individuals’ well-being and educational experience. Applying a qualitative approach, this research is focused on analysing the study experiences of Latin American students in Dutch universities to see how these events influence their sense of belonging and inclusion, comparing what inclusion means for them and universities.

The problem is that despite this phenomenon promoting cultural diversity in Dutch universities, the globalisation and standardisation of higher education (HE) plans can aggravate historical and social justice problems and the inclusion of culturally underrepresented groups. It is essential to understand that global processes are not exclusively associated with political economy or the expansion of capitalism but also with cultural and political projects under the idea that education is a human right (Robertson & Dale, 2015: 159).


Due to the perpetuation of neo-colonial structures worldwide, social injustices in HE remain unseen, covered under superficial changes for promoting the inclusion and diversity of these institutions. Here I embrace Nancy Fraser’s (1995) three-dimensional model of injustices, which is attributed to socio- economic, cultural, and political dimensions that shape our understanding and actions towards social justice (see Keddie, 2012). If aspects such as representation, valorisation, recognition, and inclusion are not promoted in the universities, this can limit international students' personal and professional development.

In this sense, I understand education as a means for personal growth, economic productivity, and active civic participation (Gale & Molla, 2015: 819).

This is also connected to how we ‘define and address’ development through education, but also ‘how’

educational plans are constructed, ‘by whom’ and ‘for whom’ (Sultana, F. 2019: 40). This investigation aims to approach an understanding - from the international students’ perspectives - of how universities maintain neo-colonial and exclusive practices (see Sultana, F. 2019), that shape students’ study experiences.

Understanding how the Dutch HE is structured and configurated is crucial to comprehending the context Latin American students face while studying and, thus, how university experiences influence students’

development and sense of belonging. The practices and discourses that students are exposed to during their study period are (indirectly) established by global structures of power. These are materialised through the configuration of international organisations (IOs) and reproduced by national and local institutions, such as universities or governments (see Sultana, F. 2019). That is why it is essential to criticise how HE is framed nationally and internationally.

In this regard, the Inclusive Education (IE) approach is raised “as a response to the necessity for transforming educational systems to include all types of learners and ways of learning, understanding education as a human right and a way of enhancing social justice” (see Shah & Lopes Cardoso, 2014; Lopes Cardoso & Shah, 2016; Robertson & Dale, 2015). In the following chapters, we will see how education’s agency and students’ agency can be articulated to empower universities to promote emancipatory schooling to enable students to act in the world (Sultana, F. 2019: 38), developing their capabilities and talents to choose the life they desire (see Sen, 2009 cited in Gale & Molla, 2015).

In this regard, Novelli, Lopes Cardozo, and Smith (2017) developed the 4Rs framework, which combines dimensions of recognition, redistribution, representation, and reconciliation, to explore what sustainable peacebuilding might look like through a social justice lens (Novelli, Lopes Cardozo and Smith, 2017: 14). In this case, I used it to understand the agency of students and universities in the (re)configuration of HE.


Through an ethnographic and critical perspective, this thesis deepens our understanding of what inclusive education means from the perspective of Latin American students and Dutch universities. Drawing on a qualitative content analysis of inclusion and diversity policies (D&I) in Dutch universities and in-depth interviews with Latin American students, this thesis analyses how their (past) study experiences influence their sense of belonging to the university and their aims for personal (& professional) development.

Finally, my critique will be directed to five Dutch universities’1 proposals to achieve more inclusive spaces.

It is essential to corroborate if their proposals align with Latin American students' migratory and educational necessities, exploring possible improvements for future Latin American students' study experiences.

1.2 Academic and social relevance

In summary, the academic and social relevance of this phenomenon relies on:

- ISM is an increasing phenomenon worldwide,

- I choose to focus on the Latin American students because of personal interest and because they are an important incoming non-European group of students, but also because the Academia has not prioritised its research in the Netherlands,

- Recognising and understanding the dynamics of HE, nationally and internationally, will help us to clarify possible paths for achieving social justice and inclusive environments in education, - Experts, students, activists, and other stakeholders profoundly claim to decolonise education and

the development field. Enhancing social justice and recognising cultural diversity in education is essential to building more just and cohesive communities (see Sultana, F. 2019).

- Finally, from the development field, we tend to focus on developing or underdeveloped countries, forgetting that the study and promotion of human development must be everywhere, also in the misnamed ‘first world’.

1.3 Knowledge gaps

The following knowledge gaps had been identified by reviewing the literature related to the ISM, the promotion of social justice through inclusive education, and the importance of human development and its capabilities (see Abbott et al., 2017; Sultana F., 2015; Widyastudi et al., 2021; Wood & Deprez, 2012). Thus:

- Firstly, a vast range of investigations (Penninx, R. & Garcés-Mascareñas. et al., 2016; Bijwaard, 2010; Vallet & Caille, 1999) focuses on including ISs in the host countries from an integrative approach rather than from an inclusive one. This means placing the responsibility of inclusion on students rather than on educational systems. Linked to this is the discord of what means and entails

1 The five universities selected are the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, University of Leiden, University of Utrecht, University of Amsterdam, and the Vrije University. Chapter 4 – Research Context will present the reason for this selection.


to develop an inclusive education (see Tobbell et al. 2021). This investigation aims to understand what inclusion means for Latin American students and universities to see if their approaches have correlations (or not) (see Sultana, F. 2019). This will be developed in Chapters 2 and 5,

- Students, experts, and other stakeholders are claiming the urgency for transforming the global structures that perpetuate neo-colonialist dynamics and exclusionary practices in education, especially related to the curricula content. Including a broader spectrum of perspectives and voices for encouraging the diversity of talents (as decolonial pedagogies suggest2) is a way of decolonising HE and enhancing social justice (see Walsh, C. 2015; Keddie, 2012; Santos, 2014 & Escobar, 2016, cited in Sultana, F. 2019). These points will be further developed in Chapters 2, 5 and 6,

- From the development field, we tend to focus on refugees, working migrants or unaccompanied foreign minors’ migratory flows, leaving other forms of migration unattended, such as the ISM.

Here, I will present the different migratory categories within this phenomenon and their relation to the inclusive education framework that governments, universities, and IOs are promoting. These reflections can be found in Chapters 4 and 5,

- Several investigations regarding student mobility in the Netherlands (Woodfield, 2009; King, R. et al., 2010; Becker, R. & Kolster, R. 2012) focused on covering European, Asian, and North American incoming mobility (NUFFIC, 2017), or migration from ex-former Dutch colonies. This research wants to expand the knowledge about Latin American students’ study experiences since they are a vast incoming student group in the Netherlands. I will reflect on this in Chapters 4 and 5.

1.4 Research Question and Sub-questions

The research question that guided this master thesis is:

RQ:” How do the study experiences lived by Latin American students in Dutch universities influence their sense of belonging to the university and their aims for development?”

For study experiences, I mean those lived while coursing a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or an exchange from 6 months up to 1 year. This refers to the dynamics within five Dutch universities' social and academic environments. About the participant, the age range was 20-35 years and holding a legal migrant status in the Netherlands.

2 See Chapter 2, section 2.3


In the introduction, I explained that the experiences of settlement and inclusion in the university could influence the way international students perceive their role in it. This can shape their sense of belonging to the university, and their aims for development, personally and professionally.

SQ 1: How do universities promote cultural diversity and inclusion of culturally underrepresented communities? Do Latin American students benefit from universities’ practices on these matters?

How do they benefit (if they do)?

The first part of the question refers to universities' mechanisms and support systems to transform their spaces inclusively and promote cultural diversity in their communities. The second part aims to analyse whether these practices influence Latin American students’ study experiences and how they do so (if they do) to understand the scope of these practices deeply.

SQ 2: During Latin American students’ experiences, what dynamics/events/perceptions influenced their sense of belonging to the university? How did these affect their (emotional) well- being?

By this, I mean self-dynamics, dynamics with the university as an institution and with its academic environment, and social dynamics with peers and friends. For this, I considered the five dimensions of inclusion developed by Abbott et al. (2017) and the three-dimensional framework of social injustices in education by Nancy Fraser (1995).

SQ 3: Are there any content correlations between universities’ proposals, the Dutch government’s proposals, and IOs' proposals regarding a culturally inclusive education? How does this content affect (if it does) Latin American students’ experiences?

My goal is to analyse the content of the D&I policies and internationalisation frameworks of five Dutch universities (EUR, UL, UU, UvA and VU) and compare its content with the IOs and the Dutch government's approach to inclusive education. With this, I intend to explore how the internationalisation of universities is configured at a national and global level. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see if these proposals impact the study experiences of Latin American students.

SQ 4: Do Dutch universities include Latin American students in the decision-making of events that can affect their study experiences? If so, how do universities include them?

This question will help me understand the importance of including ISs in the decision-making of their universities, which, as we will see, is related to the 4R framework of Novelli, Lopes Cardozo and Smith (2017).


2. Theoretical Framework

2.1 Migrating for educational purposes: the globalisation of higher education

Migrating to acquire education is the fastest growing form of migration nowadays (Riaño & Piguet, 2016).

According to UNESCO (2021), globally, the number of international students rose 46,4% between 2005- 2013, and from 2013-2019 the growth was 29%. This means that ISM is an increasing phenomenon worldwide, promoted (among other things) by the internationalisation of universities and the globalisation of HE. Additionally, job opportunities are higher for those who spend a study period abroad, which is appreciated by the international job market (see Woodfield, 2009).

So, what does it means to be an International Student? According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) (Migration Data Portal, 2020), an international student (IS) is an individual who migrates to another country to study. Within this phenomenon, four categories are established depending on the study experience and the geographical context where the migratory process occurs (NVVN, 2017):

- Horizontal: happens between countries with approximately equally developed HE systems (i.e., mobility between developed countries or intra-EU mobility),

- Credit: refers to a temporary stay abroad as part of a degree course (i.e., semester abroad, exchange), - Degree refers to movements for the completion of an entire degree program (i.e., bachelor's or


- Vertical: occurs between two countries with differences in the development of their HE systems (i.e., mobility from developing to developed countries).

For this case of study, I selected participants that had experienced a vertical migration – from Latin America3 to Europe4, precisely the Netherlands – and that completed (or will complete) an entire degree or a fixed period (from 6 months up to 1 year), known as credit migration.

As we saw in the introductory chapter and as Robertson & Dale (2015) expressed, global processes – such as the globalisation of HE- are not exclusively associated with political economy or the expansion of capitalism. The evolution of education has also been driven by cultural and political projects that contemplate education as a human right (Robertson & Dale, 2015: 159). I will further develop this reflection in section 2.4.

3 Considered under Western standards as an ‘underdeveloped’ region.

4 Considered under Western standards as a ‘developed’ area.


2.2 The multidimensional model of injustice: developing human capacities through Education

As stated in the introductory chapter, people who migrate for educational purposes usually aim to improve their capabilities to achieve personal objectives. As Gale & Molla (2015: 824) reflected, apart from widening access to education, it is also imperative to focus on ‘’how’’ and ‘’to what extent’’ the learning experiences provide students with real opportunities to achieve their goals (Gale & Molla, 2015: 824).

Regarding educational injustices, I agree with Robertson & Dale (2015) and Gale & Molla (2015) on the fact that these go beyond having or not having access to educational programs. Nancy Fraser (1995) developed a three-dimensional model (3D) for understanding matters of justice in education, which contributes to articulating the complexity and scope of justice issues and development in education (see Keddie, 2012). Her model acknowledged three dimensions of injustice (cited in Keddie, 2012: 265):

- Socio-economic: injustices arise when the structures of society generate maldistribution or class inequality for particular social groups,

- Cultural: injustices arise when institutionalised or hierarchical patterns of cultural value generate misrecognition or status inequality for particular social groups,

- Political: injustices arise when some individuals or groups are not accorded equal voice in decision- making about justice claims.

Addressing the multidimensional structures and practices perpetuating social injustices in education is crucial for inclusively transforming societies. Along the same line, Abbot. et al. (2017) stated that inclusive communities could only be achieved if citizens can participate and have the financial resources to participate in the taken-for-granted daily activities of the society in which they live. Furthermore, inclusive communities need a social order where competing interest groups can respect diversity and work together (social cohesion) (Abbot et al. 2017: 815). As well, Amanda Keddie (2012) reflects that justice for all is possible when the structures of the economy reflect an equitable distribution of material resources, when the status order reflects fair patterns of cultural recognition and when the constitution of political space ensures honest representation (Keddie, 2012: 265).

Besides this, why is it crucial to apply a multidimensional approach to social justice in education? As Novelli, Lopes Cardozo & Smith (2017: 17) explain, using a multifaceted approach contributes to promoting a transformative remedy – a concept developed by Fraser that refers to correcting outcomes by restructuring the underlying generative framework. This means how education policies, the individual and institutional agency and development programs promote the social justice dimensions of redistribution, recognition, and representation.

Fraser developed the 3R framework (2005) to conceptualise the importance of fostering these dimensions to enhance social justice.


On the other hand, what does it mean and entails development? How is this related to injustices in education? The idea encapsulates the elaboration of productive means, forces, capacities, services, and knowledge to meet human needs for sustenance and well-being (Cordaid, 2019: 13). Gale & Molla (2015: 819) related the concept of development to education as, among other things, a mean for personal development.

Furthermore, the authentic development approach by Drydyk & Keleher (2018) describes the development as

“what makes every person more human” entailing (Drydyk & Keleher, 2018: 29-30):

- The development of the whole person, not just the narrowly understood development, to achieve economic growth. A person's "true" human needs extend to areas such as health, learning, emotional, social, and political interaction, spiritual life, creativity, and self-determination.,

- Also, the development of each person in society matters without any distinction.

Despite various critiques concerning the development field, there is still a hegemonic notion of it. Farhana Sultana (2019) defined it as “a system of domination by Eurocentric thinking and practices implemented in the erstwhile colonies in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America - that are now independent nation-states”. These regions have historically been considered ‘less than’ or ‘lacking development’ from Western standards of development (Sultana, F. 2019: 32). Although IOs and governments are willing to promote a less “morally-conflictive” conceptualisation of development, there are still global structures that generate inequality. Their efforts to transform these structures are still insufficient since they advocate rather superficial changes. Here, I embrace Sultana's (2019) critique of the work that IOs such as the United Nations (UN) are embracing. Although they plead for the diversification of their institutions, IOs are primarily controlled by former colonisers and current imperial states and continue to determine the fate of billions in the developing world (Sultana, F. 2019: 32). This entails a single possible vision of development - the western - denying other possibilities and paths of action.

That is why decolonial, anti-racist, and indigenous southern scholars are incorporating questions around social justice in their work to overcome entrenched epistemic biases in HE in general and in the development field in particular (Baud et al., 2019, Kothari et al., 2019, cited in Sultana, F. 2019: 33). The importance of decolonising development studies, and education will be developed in the next section.

Furthermore, and concerning Drydyk & Keleher’s (2018) definition of development, Amartya Sen (1985, 1992, 1995) developed the Capability Approach (CA). For him, “individuals need to build their capabilities and talents (that goes beyond having access to economic resources) to achieve their goals” (cited in Gale &

Molla, 2015: 812). In this sense, the CA is a freedom-based theory to well-being, development, and justice, stating that:

“a person's life is a combination of various doings and beings. Understanding the quality of a person's life requires assessing substantive freedoms – defined as having the freedom to act and exercise


choice and agency to choose the life they have reason to value” (Sen, 2009, cited in Gale & Molla, 2015: 212).

In Academia, the CA has been broadly applied to the education field, but what does it involve? As Gale &

Molla (2015) explain, there are two types of capability in education (Gale & Molla, 2015: 817):

- For education: highlights the importance of removing barriers to individuals' access to educational resources and opportunities and promoting agency freedom in educational experiences (i.e., individuals' ability to choose to attend a particular school or study a specific subject, having access to information necessary for education decision-making),

- Through education: related to the development of values and agency goals (…), education systems should not only widen access for equitable participation but also ensure that people have the ability and freedom to make their own choices. As Vaughan (2007) exposes, this approach can be materialised in two ways (cited in Gale & Molla, 2015: 817):

▪ Essential capabilities for education functioning (i.e., literacy, numeracy, practical reason),

▪ Expanded capabilities for general well-being and the role of education in expanding other capabilities sets and creating opportunities.

Education with this intent supports individuals’ agency freedom, which incorporates aspiration to learn and succeed, and a voice for participation and resistance (Gale & Molla, 2015: 820). Chapters 5 and 6 explore how individuals develop their capacities and how participating and feeling represented in the university are concepts that influence the sense of belonging and personal development of Latin American students.

2.3 Decolonising pedagogies: including other voices for enhancing social justice

The necessity for decolonising education has increased considerably in the past years. Previously we saw that some scholars promote the decolonisation of education through their work. Students also raised their voices in this respect. The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ in South Africa or the ‘Why is My Curriculum White?’ in the United Kingdom (Sultana, F. 2019: 32) are some examples of it. Sultana (2019) reflects on what decolonisation is about, expressing that it means the liberation of neo-colonial patterns in education and new ways of valuing each individual in society (Fanon, 1963; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999; Tuhiwai Smith et al., 2019, cited in Sultana, F. 2019: 34). In this sense, what does it mean to decolonise the development field and HE? How is this related to the promotion of social justice in education?

The western (hegemonic) conception of development through education denies other points of view, ways, and different practices of knowing from the Western culture. (Walsh. C, 2015: 12). For Walsh (2015), decolonisation means confronting the structures that promote new forms of colonisation and the act of


resisting. Resist means proffer pedagogical actions of insurgence and the creation and maintenance of the

‘otherwise’, understood as non-hegemonic visions and educational practices (Walsh, C. 2015: 23, 11).

These pedagogical actions are known as ‘decolonial pedagogies’ – actions that promote and provoke the fissuring of the modern/colonial global order and enable and give sustenance and force to the ‘otherwise’

(Walsh. C, 2015: 19). These have been rising lately due to the current capitalism’ and western civilisation crisis (Lander, 2010, cited in Walsh, C. 2015: 17).

Related to Walsh’s reflection, Santos (2007) notes that “global social justice cannot be achieved without global cognitive justice - a process of decolonising the social sciences by opening up alternative knowledge and approaches” (Novelli, Lopes Cardozo & Smith, 2017: 27). The concept of cognitive justice for Keddie (2012) is linked with concrete arrangements that impede the parity of participation and representation in education, associated to the simplification or silencing marginalised voices within the university curricula (Keddie, 2012: 272). These limiting dynamics created or inhibited by repressive social structures can influence students’ aspirations and personal development (Gale & Molla, 2015: 824), a reflection related to Fraser’s (1995) 3D model of educational injustices. In this sense, one can interpret that students’ aims for development can be limited due to maintaining neo-colonial structures in HE. This reflection is also present in the narratives of the Latin American students that we will see in Chapter 5.

Therefore, it is vital to embrace educational injustices from a multidimensional perspective. Here, the 4R Framework developed by Novelli, Lopes Cardozo, & Smith (2017) to explore “what sustainable peacebuilding might look like through a social justice lens” helped me to understand the multidimensional causes of exclusionary practices in the university. Based on Fraser's analytical framework of the 3Rs (2005), the model illustrates that in education, we need to (cited in Novelli, Lopes Cardozo & Smith, 2017: 28):

- Redistribute, which means “providing a range of remedies for social injustice caused by unequal distribution of resources, exclusive participation in economic structures, and a lack of equal social opportunities” – (i.e., related to access to education),

- Recognise, and therefore, promote “possible solutions to the injustice that has to do with status inequalities, which prevent some people from having equal or full interaction in institutionalised cultural hierarchies – (i.e., related to a lack of acceptance of different types of cultural diversity),

- And Represent is related to the “absence of little transformative practices which lead to citizens’

unequal participation in decision-making processes” (i.e., underrepresentation of ethnical minorities or lack of spaces for student participation in the university).


The authors introduced a 4R – Reconciliation – to explain “the role of education in dealing with history and reparations concerning memorial justice processes” (Novelli, Lopes Cardozo & Smith, 2017: 29). In this case, I relate this dimension to the urgency of decolonising education, the decolonisation of the development field, as well as the reconfiguration of the discourses that IOs and governments embrace towards ‘underdeveloped’ regions, such as Latin America.

2.4 Inclusive higher education: personal development and the sense of belonging in universities

In the introductory chapter, we saw that the ISM phenomenon is rapidly growing (see Robertson & Dale, 2015). In this scenario, it seems necessary to restructure HE and adapt it to the changing global demands.

Even more critical, this transformation needs to include all types of students and needs, promote global social justice, and establish non-hegemonic visions in the curricula.

Internationally, IOs, governments, and educational organisations shifted the focus from “responding to the necessities of students with disabilities” to “promoting educational opportunities for all students (framed in terms of diversity)” (Carrington, 2017: 240). This perspective is known internationally as the Inclusive Education (IE) approach.

Connecting it to Nancy Fraser’s three-dimensional framework of injustices in education (3D) (1995), applying an inclusive approach in education involves (Ainscow, 2000, cited in Carrington, 2017: 240):

- “That all students have the right to be included at their educational institutions and to be recognised as members of value within its community” – related to the cultural dimension of Fraser’s model, - “(…) to actively participate with others in their learning experiences” – related to the political

dimension of the 3D model of Fraser,

- “(…) and to have access to a system that delivers quality education that it suits to the unique competencies, skills, and attributes of each student” - such as the socio-economic dimension Fraser suggests.

Related to the 3D model of Fraser and to understand more in-depth what social inclusion involves, I used Abbott’s. et al. (2017) five-dimensional model of social inclusion (Abbott et al. 2017: 815), which considers:

- Visibility - to be recognised as a member of society,

- Consideration - governments and IOs consider the needs and concerns of all individuals and groups in community,

- Access to social interactions, as everyone has the same right to participate in society and create social bonds,

- Equal rights – recognised by international law,

- To fully participate in society, one must have access to all resources.


As we will see in Chapter 5, the ‘lack’ of these dimensions can significantly impact students’ sense of belonging to their universities. Masika & Jones (2016) define the concept of belonging as the “student’s sense of being accepted, involved, respected, and encouraged by peers and lecturers in all the activities that take place inside and outside the classroom” (cited in Owusu – Agyeman, 2021: 431).

Reflections about social justice and inclusion suggest a multidimensional understanding of development through education. That is why educational proposals must be generated integrally, as indicated by the 4Rs framework of Novelli, Lopes Cardozo & Smith (2017) and Keddie’s’ (2012) reflections of what it entails to promote justice for all5.

On the other hand, HE must confront hegemonic structures of knowledge and development standards established by the West. Therefore, we need to continue fighting and resisting global systems that produce injustices to achieve social justice and more equal global dynamics. In this sense, Amanda Keddie (2012) highlights the importance of “connecting with the histories, cultures, contributions, and perspectives of non-dominant groups through the curriculum of educational programs”. As Santos (2007) remarked, Keddie’s suggestion is one of the manners of supporting inclusive schooling practices and promoting cognitive justice for marginalised students (see Sultana, F. 2019). Such methods are central to creating more equitable patterns of cultural recognition, reflecting tremendous respect and esteem for marginalised groups (Keddie, 2012: 268).

5See section 2.2.


Figure 1. Conceptual scheme

2.5 Conceptual scheme

Source: own creation based on the Literature Review and Research Proposal processes.

This conceptual scheme graphically shows the connections drawn by the theoretical framework. Here, education arises as to the motivation to migrate for a growing influx of ISs, such as Latin Americans. Global structures that create inequality are divided into three dimensions (socio-economic, political, and cultural) that are materialised in international structures of power, promoted internationally by IOs and other stakeholders, at the national level by governments and local stakeholders such as universities.


These structures promote unequal relations between, for example, the North and the South, generating inequalities in and through educational systems, and causing an impact on students' schooling experiences.

Therefore, it is essential to promote decolonising pedagogies to enhance social justice and re-structure education inclusively.


Their primary motivation for migrating to the Netherlands is to study. Their purposes are based on achieving personal and professional goals and desires. Their first point of connection with the country is the university, and thus, this is a crucial institution during their migratory and acculturation process in Dutch cities.

Here, students’ socioeconomic, cultural, and personal background shape their study adventures and perceptions of their new life in the country. The university here is perceived as a place where students can start socialising (although this is not the only place where these interactions occur). Students’ background and relationship with the university and peers can impact their well-being, development goals, and self- perception of their role in the university community. On the other hand, their agency is represented as having the right to choose the university they want and participating in their decision-making events.


The university has several roles, such as promoting and improving student services, being the first point of connection between ISs and the Netherlands, providing and creating knowledge, contributing to the country’s development, and serving as a place where students can socialise.

In this sense, universities benefit from the ISM since it internationalises its spaces, achieving global relevance and prestige. The ISs, the Host Society, Education, and the universities, benefit from their interactions with each other, being the university where everything converges.


It is represented by Dutch society, governmental actors, and other stakeholders. In this context is where the acculturation process occurs, and diversity of daily-life complexities arise.

The global and national structures of injustice also influence the development of the host society, shaping society’s vision of the incoming students. Thus, it is essential to understand and develop education policies from a multidimensional approach.


3. Research Methodology

In this section, I will present the methodological plan used in this research. First, the epistemological and ontological positions are shown. Secondly, the research design, the sampling strategy, the data collection, and analysis methods will be introduced. After that, I will expose the units of study and observation, ethical considerations, my positionality as the researcher, and a reflection on the methodological approach.

3.1 Research Design and Methodology

For the epistemological position –concerned with the nature of knowledge and the different methods of gaining it - I applied a deductive approach (Bryman, 2017: 36) since my concepts are based on my theoretical framework. On the other hand, for the ontological position - concerned with what is real and the nature of reality - I followed the Critical Realistic Theory, which aims that “truth and knowledge are socially constructed and influenced by power relations within society” (Pouw, N. 2021). This framework recognises the reality of the natural order and the events and discourses of the social world. It holds that “we will only be able to understand, and so, change the social world if we identify the structures that generate those events and discourses” (Bhaskar, 1989: 2, cited in Bryman, 2017: 29).

3.2 Units of Analysis and Observation

For this research, two units of analysis have been identified:

- International Students coming from Latin America (as the subject of study): The age range was 20-35; I focused on their study experiences in Dutch universities. With this, I wanted to discover correlations between students’ perceptions of inclusiveness and universities’ inclusive approaches, to see how these approaches impact students’ sense of belonging to the university,

- The Dutch Higher Educational Policy, the D&I and Internationalisation policies of the universities, and official documents of IOs about inclusive education: I analysed their content to understand what inclusion means and entails for ISs. I was also interested in understanding the structure and operationalisation of the Dutch HE, specifically of universities.

Concerning the unit of observation, this was identified as the migratory process of Latin American students for educational purposes, considering their experiences in Dutch universities to see how these shape their sense of belonging, well-being, and aims for development.

3.3 Operationalisation

Operationalisation entails “devising measures of the concepts the researcher is interested in” (Bryman, 2017: 161). To do so, it is necessary to have indicators that will stand for each concept (Bryman, A. 2017:


164). Thus, the following figure presents the concepts that are central to the development of this investigation:

Source: own creation based on the Operationalisation table.

The operationalisation table (5) can be found in the appendices section.

3.4 Participants and Sample

To disseminate this research, I appealed to social media, where I found several Latin American media groups.

There, I reached ten students from the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the University of Utrecht, and the University of Leiden. Their countries of precedence were diverse: Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, México, and Peru. Four of them studied for a bachelor’s degree, the other four for a master’s degree and two of them studied both. The range of age was 20-35, but most were around 25.

Additionally, I interviewed a member of a bachelor’s program of the UvA that previously studied a master’s in the same university. This helped me understand the dynamics between the D&I office of the university and the program, as well as their strategy to promote cultural diversity among its students.

Eight participants used their sources to finance their studies, and two gained a scholarship. Regarding legality issues, non-European students must apply for a studying visa, which requires proving an income to live in the Netherlands, covering their living expenses and tuition fees for their program duration. The

Figure 2. Theoretical concepts


current monthly payment for the living expenses is 932,87 euros, 11.315 €/year (Immigration and Naturalization Service – IND, 2022).

Additionally, non-European students must meet rigorous academic requirements, such as proving English proficiency. Taking the level test is expensive, and not everyone in Latin America has access to study English. Likewise, there are particular conditions that each program and university establish.

Intrinsically these requirements exclude other Latin American students from coming to the Netherlands since it is not easy to afford such expenses and procedures. Thus, despite cultural diversity among Dutch universities, this is not entirely representative of all kinds of students and realities worldwide.

3.5 Ethical Considerations and the Researcher’s positionality

- General considerations

I offered my participants beverages and food while doing in-person interviews to thank them for their participation. For online participants, I will provide a ‘symbolic present’ that will be raffled among the collaborators once this thesis is published. On the other hand, I directed my communication product to my participants and future students. I created a factsheet in Spanish, where I presented the most important findings. After finalising the master's, I will provide a second communication product (in English) directed to universities, with proposals for transforming their spaces inclusively, explaining the root causes of exclusionary practices by comparing students’ study experiences and university findings.

I offered my participants the possibility of doing in-person and online interviews. For the in-person option, I considered health measures to avoid risks related to COVID-19, following the recommendations of the Dutch Ministry of Health.

- Ethical reflections

The following table presents the criteria established by the Graduate School of Social Sciences (GSSS) of the UvA (2019) and that I used to work on my ethics:

Table 1. Criteria followed to construct my ethics reflection

Criteria Explanation


I clarified to my participants that collaborating on this research needed to be voluntary, seeing this act as contributing to the generation of new knowledge regarding ISM from LA to NL.


- I created a consent form to explain the objective and relevance of this investigation, the implications of the collaboration and as a way to make the investigative process transparent,


- Together with my participants, we established some grounded rules (i.e., for them to share just the information they feel comfortable with or that they could abandon the interview/research at any moment).


I can state that this research has no other purpose besides generating knowledge and awareness of the ISM phenomenon and the relevance of promoting cultural diversity and inclusion in universities.


- All the information collected was stored and analysed only by me.

Regarding ‘direct quotations of statements’ made during the interviews, I used pseudonyms to ensure their safety and privacy, or I totally anonymised quotations that could expose my participants to any kind of harm,

- My interviewees were not exposed to physical or emotional harm.

In case of future collateral effects, I will try to offer them the help they need to face them,

- The only information that can be access by other researchers is the

‘list of participants’ that can be found in the appendices section. Any other kind of data is guarded by myself due to confidential compromises with my participants. My thesis supervisor was the only person that had access to the information for auditing purposes.


To ensure the validity and credibility of this research I pleaded to be as transparent as possible with my participants, providing all the information they required about this research.

Source: own creation based on the ethics recommendations of the Graduate School of Social Sciences of the UvA (2019).

Finally, I constantly worked to avoid scientific fraud and plagiarism and to ensure academic integrity. I stipulate that all my findings and conclusions are products of my work. All the knowledge I used from other authors and institutions is cited to ensure transparency.


- My positionality as ‘the researcher’.

Following Savin-Bader & Majors' (2013) criteria for finding my positionality as a researcher (cited in Darwin, 2020: 3), I state that:

1. I understand that being born in Chile makes me culturally close to my interviewees. Overall, I consider myself a privileged white woman who, even coming from Latin America, has been raised in the western culture. These characteristics shape my perception of the world, and thus, I constantly work on my ‘neutrality’ while researching,

2. Although my participants share the geographic and cultural area of origin, each of their experiences is unique. Understanding this helped me avoid any kind of generalisation.

3.6 Methodology Reflection of the Quality and Research Limitations

For reflecting on assessing a qualitative study, such I work with the trustworthiness and authenticity criteria by Lincoln proposed and Guba (1985,1994) (cited in Bryman 2017: 39):

Table 2. Criteria for assessing a Qualitative Study


▪ CREDIBILITY (or internal validity) To achieve the aim of this investigation I used:

- In-depth interviews with Latin American students (+ one academic member of the UvA),

- Qualitative content analysis of D&I policies and other relevant documents related to inclusive education.

I used a triangulation approach to ensure that the results of this investigation were credible and trustworthy.

▪ DEPENDABILITY (or Reliability)

Every step (i.e., problem formulation, selection of research participants, fieldwork notes and interview transcripts, among others) of the methodological strategy, was explained in detail in the literature review, the research proposal, and the final thesis product.

I consider these findings as preliminary and can be further developed with broader resources.

▪ CONFIRMABILITY (or Objectivity)

The triangulation method permitted me to confirm that my findings were built on the data collected and not because of my interpretation. Finally, the auditing process was conducted by my thesis supervisor to preserve objectivity in the interpretation of my data.

▪ TRANSFERABILITY (or External Validity)

I provided a thick description of the context and phenomenon investigated to provide others with a database for judging the possible transferability of findings to other milieux (Bryman, 2017: 392).


(Lincoln and Guba, 1985, 1994, cited in Bryman, 2017: 393)

▪ FAIRNESS: “Does the research fairly represent different viewpoints among members of the social setting?”


The interviewees come from different countries of Latin America and studied a diverse range of programs and in different Dutch. This ensures the representation of different collectives and realities.

▪ ONTOLOGICAL AUTHENTICITY: “Does the research help members to arrive at a better understanding of their social milieu?”

During the interviews, we reflected on the students’ positionality as members of the university community, evaluating more in-depth their personal and professional trajectories.

▪ EDUCATIVE AUTHENTICITY: “Does the research help members to appreciate better the perspectives of other members of their social settings?”

Through the materialisation of this thesis, my participants and other actors can realise the importance of including different points of view in education and the urgency of more participatory processes in decision-making.

Source: own creation by using Lincoln and Guba (1985,1994) criteria (cited in Bryman 2017: 39).

4. Research Context

4.1 The Netherlands as the Research Location

I decided to carry out the fieldwork in the Netherlands due to:

- The current pandemic of COVID-19, could restring my mobility, and by so, by compromise the research’


- Also, I believe that development occurs everywhere; thus, we must investigate it in the northern hemisphere.

My interviewees studied or were studying in five Dutch universities (UvA, VU, EUR, UU, UL), located in Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam, and Utrecht. These are the universities that, among others, host higher rates of ISs (NUFFIC, 2022: 18).

It is relevant to mention that the University of Maastricht historically hosts the highest number of ISs. I decided not to include it in this investigation as its case has been extensively covered in previous studies (Woodfield, 2009; Nuffic, 2020; Dubow et al. et al., 2020).

4.2 International Student Mobility in the Netherlands

Black et al. (2004: 46) define the culture of migration as a “culture where migration is considered to be the only way to improve one’s standard of living (…). A major feature of this culture is a discourse on migration as a dominant strategy to enable social mobility”.

Figure 3. The geographical context of NL

Source: Own creation using Data wrapper.


Migration to maximise educational and linguistic opportunities has been widespread among the Latin American community in Europe since the 2000s. So, 22% of them cite it as the main reason for migrating (McIlwaine, 2011: 299).

Acknowledging the study and migratory experiences of the Latin American community is crucial for understanding the linkages between universities’ aims for internationalisation and the promotion of globalising HE worldwide. Previously we saw that global dynamics and structures could perpetuate dissimilarities between the North and the South, limiting the development (under western standards) of the last (see Sultana, 2019, Walsh, 2015).

The presence of Latin American students in Dutch universities effectively widens the cultural diversity of their communities. However, this diversity does not entirely represent the diverse educational realities worldwide. As I explained in section 3.4, not everyone in Latin America can afford to study in Europe, mainly due to economic reasons, academic dissimilarities, and complex legal procedures. In summary, structural factors of injustice in education (see Fraser, 1995, Walsh, 2015) can limit other Latin American students from studying abroad.

Many national strategies have emerged in Europe in response to countries' engagement with the Bologna process (Woodfield, 2009: 3), which aimed to internationalise and open HE to Europe and the world.

IOs and governments seek to enhance the quality of HE provisions, and thus, they perceive the ISM phenomenon as central to achieving this goal. For universities in developed countries, international strategies that focus on recruiting ISs help to improve their academic and research capacity, supporting the internationalisation of their agendas (i.e., in terms of developing globally relevant curricula, facilitating student and faculty exchange, and improving campus diversity) (Woodfield, 2009: 4). The critique here is directed to the representation of this cultural diversity, which is significantly related to how academic programs are structured.

In this sense, international rankings emerged to legitimise universities’ internationalisation actions on a global scale. This fact determined international students’ decision on which university to attend. As Elia (personal communication 6, 22/02/2022) expressed, the most attractive thing about his university was the high number of English-taught programs. The international prestige of his degree was materialised in a “very good positionality in the international sphere”. In Chapter 5, we will further see the correlations between international and national strategies for the internationalisation of HE and the narratives of Latin American students about the socio-academic environment in universities.



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