“New bachelor’s degree meets a clear need”

A brand new part-time bachelor’s degree course prepares students to be the customs professionals of the future.

There is no shortage of higher educated people who want to work at Dutch Customs or in cross-border logistics. However the current higher professional education system (HBO) does not offer employers any customization. This will change with a four-year part-time programme at Fontys University of Applied Sciences. It trains students to be customs professionals in their own right.

“This bachelor’s degree programme meets a clear need – within the business sector but also at our administration”, says Frank Heijmann (right in the photograph), head of trade relations at Dutch Customs. “We want to see that well-trained employees strengthen our service. We normally prefer to recruit at the gate. This is how we have brought in HBO students from various disciplines. In order to be able to work at their level, they must now take an additional internal training course first. That means sitting in class for another two years, while they already have a higher vocational diploma. That is, of course, not so efficient. And we already had very few qualified academics. Conversely, that internal training course is not accredited. Internally trained staff members who want to grow to academic level are faced with the fact that they do not have an official bachelor’s degree.”

Full-fledged degree course
With the arrival of the master’s degree programme at the Rotterdam School of Management in 2014, a first step was taken to ensure that the external education offer is better aligned with the demand for Customs professionals. Heijmann: “In that year, we started with eighteen students, over half of whom worked with us. It is nice to see that the composition is increasingly diverse. The third course launched last September has nine Dutch Customs staff members and a few colleagues from Belgium, Ireland, Turkey and China. The other nine participants come from the international business community.”

The master’s degree course, however, is not for everyone. With the bachelor’s degree course – starting in early 2018 – a valid degree course, financed with public funding, will be added. It is a full-fledged degree course, which is open to anyone who qualifies for higher professional education”, says Heijmann. “And the beauty is that this accredited course furthers the functional mobility of employees.”

Employee of the future
For the actual content of the bachelor’s degree course, we had to search for the common denominator, says Heijmann. “What are the needs of the market? What kind of employee do we need in the future? With the support of the Top Sector Logistics, Fontys University, the umbrella associations TLN/FENEX and evofenedex and Customs arrived at a blueprint for the degree course. It must rest on three pillars. Alongside of customs legislation and associated processes, those are compliance and supply chain management.”

The cooperation with Fontys University is nothing new, says Heijmann: “For third year HBO Logistics and Economics students, an elective was started in 2015 in which customs management and trade compliance were the central focus. We also contributed to that minor. And we are going to do that again. As yet, we do not supply instructors, although we will contribute educational assistance, perhaps in the form of internal study material. We will also see if we can send students, just as with the master’s programme. There are, of course, more colleges that could teach this subject, but Fontys has distinguished itself by spearheading customs as a key component in their KennisDC Logistics.* This offers an innovative online environment in which all kinds of knowledge about logistics and customs processes are concentrated. We therefore welcome the choice for Fontys.”

Security and compliance
What will the new degree course actually be called? At the time of this interview, Hans Aarts (right in the photograph), director of Fontys University of Applied Sciences, Engineering and Logistics, has not yet completely decided. “The name is not yet known, but it could turn out to be Customs Management & Trade Compliance. The part-time bachelor’s degree course is strongly focused on those two subjects.”
The degree course has, apart from the professional and training profile in Logistics, also the European Competence Framework for Customs Professionals as a basis. Aarts: “Customs is helping us meet the requirements set by this framework. The bachelor’s degree course is primarily focused on customs legislation. Companies are looking for staff that provides added value in terms of security and compliance. With this degree course, we can provide that. To give an example: many containers that come into the port of Rotterdam, go inland unopened. The clearance process is no job which Customs per se must take on itself – certified companies are also allowed to do this. But not every company is aware of this.”

Staying tuned to society
“In late November, early December we will hold our first information meeting for interested parties, together with Customs”, Aarts continues. “We are hoping for candidates who are already working in the logistics sector. It is a pilot project, so I’d be happy with about ten to fifteen students. In this first year, you are still a bit at the pioneering stage. If we were to start immediately with around fifty, it would be difficult to manage. But once the degree course is well situated, we want to expand to several dozen students per year.”

Just as with other bachelor’s degree courses, this one takes four years to complete. The study pressure is about twenty to thirty hours a week, depending on the work environment of the student. Aarts: “Just as with the minor, there are not only our own instructors in the classroom, but also professionals from the business community. This way, you stay tuned to society and you can use cases from professional practice. That minor, by the way, has thus far been a success. It is an elective for third year students, but we are also open to external participants. Some of the students were hard-to-employ job-seekers of around fifty years old. After completing the course, they could quickly start at one of the logistics service providers here in the region. That is partly due to Customs. Without Customs, we would never have been able to realize our minor training course. And there never would have been a follow-up in the form of this bachelor’s degree course.”

* See also the article 'Knowledge box TC&BM is being launched' elsewhere in this publication.

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