The Netherlands has always been a trading nation. In the Middle Ages its towns and cities were built on commerce in agricultural produce from the fertile Dutch countryside. And in the seventeenth century they grew richer still as ventures like the Dutch East India Company pioneered trade with the Far East and other distant parts of the globe. In their wake, Amsterdam became the world’s first financial capital.
That characteristic survives to this day. The Port of Rotterdam has long been Europe’s largest, serving a hinterland well beyond the borders of the Netherlands. And in recent years Amsterdam Schiphol Airport has been developed into a “mainport” for cargo and passengers, taking advantage of its strategic position between major centres like London, Paris, Frankfurt and Berlin.
As manufacturing and industry have shifted away from Europe to cheaper locations, however, the Dutch have been realigning their economy to rely less upon moving goods and more upon their know-how. In a mission to promote sustainable growth, the government is trying to develop a competitive, dynamic knowledge economy driven by innovation. Nowadays, the Netherlands is a leading player in cutting-edge information technologies, multimedia applications, embedded software, broadband, microtechnology and nanotechnology.
Traditional skills have been reinvented, too. The Dutch windmill has evolved into the wind turbine and is generating electricity all over the world. Expertise in everything from water management to flower-growing has become an important export product. Even Dutch architects have found fame and fortune abroad, as far away as China.
Schools like HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht are in the vanguard of this knowledge revolution. The Netherlands realizes that outstanding higher education is vital to a successful modern economy, and so has made it a key policy priority. We have been given the task of training the top professionals of tomorrow, Dutch and international. Not just in the skills they need to do the job, but in the mentality they need to be enterprising, innovative and forward-looking. And in the wider social and economic outlook which are essential in building a sustainable world in the twenty-first century.