Moving forward on agricultural education in central & southeast Europe

Connecting four countries in one webinar. On Thursday 20 January 2022, the Agricultural counsellors of Romania/Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland organized an interactive webinar for the Dutch agricultural (or ‘green’) education schools and universities to get a look at the possibilities for cooperation in the central and southeastern European region. Live from a studio in Warsaw – we connected to Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and the Netherlands.

Groen onderwijs Oost-Europa

Origin story

Following a process of several years, a successful visit to the Netherlands and the energy and enthusiasm from parties in both Romania and the Netherlands – a newly established Center of Excellence is now up and running in Romania and ready to take on projects. In Romania, the European Recovery and Resilience Fund entails a sizable paragraph on strengthening the vocational education and training (VET) system. The Center of Excellence can aid Dutch parties to access these funds by applying to tenders. From the Dutch side, three vocational education and training centers (Aeres MBO, Zone College, Terra College) and two Universities of Applied Sciences (HAS and Van Hall Larenstein) are involved in the cooperation with Romania. Part of the successful cooperation is the stimulation from the Romanian government, that has a concrete wish to strengthen the quality of education in their agricultural VET centers. In their plans for the European Recovery and Resilience Funds, Romania has assigned significant funds to the strengthening of the educational system, looking for support and expertise of (amongst others) the Dutch system.

Beeld: Pexels

This cooperation caught the eye of the other agricultural counsellors in the region, and the first steps towards more regional cooperation were taken. As a result, consultant Wim Zaalmink (Agro & Fish Consultancy) and Michelle de Groot (Rijkstrainee temporarily seconded to Warsaw) compiled a report on the agricultural education systems and challenges for the agri-sector of Romania, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria – to use as a start-off point for future collaboration. This report was presented to the Dutch educational institutions and VET centers during an online event on the 20th of January.

Differences and similarities

During this event, Wim Zaalmink presented the insights he had gathered over the past months. He gave a comprehensive run-through of the challenges and opportunities for agricultural education in these countries. The differences between the countries are big, for instance - where in Bulgaria around 90% of agricultural entrepreneurs have been educated by practical experience, in Poland almost 30% has received full agricultural training. That percentage is much higher than any of the other involved countries, whereas the Netherlands has the highest percentage of farmers with basic training.

But although there are big differences between the level of theoretical and practical education in the different countries in the region and the Netherlands, some common challenges are also discernible. Climate inclusive farming, effective land-use, efficiency through digitalization and creating a thriving and attractive rural area are some of the shared challenges for the upcoming years.

Meeting agricultural education 20 Jan 2022

These challenges were also identified by Karen Bakhuisen, ‘quartermaster’ for the acceleration program Internationalization at the Dutch ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. As a driving force behind the internationalization of the Dutch green education, she stressed the importance of looking over one’s own border to tackle these challenges together with other European countries.

“Since 2016, the Dutch ministry of Agriculture has devoted energy towards the cooperation between government, education and industry, to renew the system of green education in the Netherlands in the context of the big challenges: climate, sustainable agriculture, circular agriculture and biodiversity. It is very important to keep strengthening the international position of our knowledge system, because we want to make a meaningful contribution to solving these problems – not only in the Netherlands but also with our partners in Europe and globally.”

Old networks, new plans

Many Dutch ‘green’ education institutions already have cooperation with schools or universities in the region, the contact sometimes dating back many years. For instance, HAS University of Applied Sciences in Venlo offers a very popular minor International Agribusiness, together with the German University of Applied Sciences in Osnabrück and the Polish University of Life Sciences in Poznan. The Dutch University of Applied Sciences AERES has a partnership with the Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences. And Wageningen University has a Memorandum of Understanding with Poznan University of Life Sciences, the Polish Academy of Sciences and the National Veterinary Research Institute. Just a few examples, and there are many more examples of already successful contact and partnerships available. Well-known networks, such as EUROPEA and ENTER were mentioned as key players in establishing new contact – but agricultural counsellors can also use their networks to facilitate contact with governmental parties and connect to industry.

Visit agricultural school Poland

Next to this, many new opportunities were identified. Ranging from the Hungarian focus on strengthening the academic and theoretical knowledge of agricultural students and the newly established Precision Agriculture Training Center in Bulgaria, to a larger focus on ecological issues on the Polish side: ambitions and ideas for the future aplenty in these four countries.

In Bulgaria, for instance, the government has since 2015 systematically implemented dual education (learning by working) in various fields, and is now looking to expand this system to agricultural education. Arie Veldhuizen, agricultural counsellor in Bulgaria and Romania, sees many chances for Dutch knowledge and technology in Bulgaria.

Hungary is aware of the enormous potential of the agricultural sector, agricultural counsellor in Hungary Koen van Ginneken states, but also of the fact that this potential is not yet fully realized. The impacts of climate change on the agricultural sector in Hungary are becoming more and more clear, drought is becoming a major problem for instance. They really want to unlock the untapped potential of the agricultural sector through digitization and precision agriculture, for which purpose a digital agricultural academy is being set up under the MATE university. There is also a strong focus on increasing the connection between academic agricultural education and practical education.

“In Hungary, the 'golden triangle' approach is well-known and a clear target, so I see many opportunities there for Dutch education, for example, to set up exchange of knowledge at a higher level of abstraction. I am also curious whether the capacity of Hungarian education is enough to realize the ambition of 50% secondary or university-educated farmers by 2030, so there may also be train-the-trainer opportunities for Dutch education, for instance.”

Visit agricultural school Poland

Zooming in on Poland

As illustrated above, the Dutch and Polish applied sciences and university level institutions know how to find one another. Multiple research projects, visits and exchanges are already taking place, and with a renewed focus on European cooperation from several Dutch institutions there may be more to come in the future.

However, in some cases the contact between Vocational Education and Training (VET) centers in Poland and the Netherlands faded over time. High time to reinforce these ties and facilitate new connections!

Visit agricultural school Poland

During a ‘tour-de-school’ in December, the agricultural team of the Dutch Embassy visited four VET centers in the west of Poland (Wielkopolska region). These schools specialize mainly in the areas of veterinary studies, farming, agromechanics, landscaping and renewable energy. After informative visits to the facilities of these schools and enthusiastic conversations with directors and teachers, these schools are now very open to cooperation with Dutch colleagues.

From the side of the Polish government, Ms. Anna Radecka (Director for Social and Educational Policy of the ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Poland) stated that her department is open to contact and cooperation with the Dutch. The ministry is very involved in the 61 VET centers that are part of Sieć Szkół Rolniczych, the government network of schools financed by the ministry. It is very important for the ministry that these schools are modern centers of education and that they can adapt to the demands of the students and the modern market. She stressed that interested students, teachers and schools are most welcome to visit Poland, to collaborate and see the investment in vocational training and education for themselves.
After the event on 20 January, the agricultural counsellors are taking the first steps to facilitate contact and stimulate cooperation. Interested (Dutch) parties can join a follow-up meeting at the end of February, for instance. Now it is up to the involved parties on both sides to see where these opportunities take us.


To join the follow-up on Poland, or get in touch with agricultural counsellor Carolien Spaans:

To join the energy in Romania or Bulgaria, or get in touch with agricultural counsellor Arie Veldhuizen: or You can read further about the opportunities in Bulgaria here 

To learn more about the Hungarian developments or get in touch with agricultural counsellor Koen van Ginneken:

→ Read the whole report here or watch a recording of the webinar here