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Jan R. Hakemulder: the Intercultural Open University for Harmony

Introduction to the Intercultural Open University



Written by Prof. dr. Jan R. Hakemulder   

Wednesday, 27 December 2006                    Last Updated ( Tuesday, 15 May 2007 )

Prof. dr. J.R. Hakemulder D.Ed., Ph.D., Psy.D., D.Litt (Hon),
International President of the Intercultural Open University.


It is an honor and pleasure for me to introduce to you the Intercultural Open University (IOU) and it's related specialized agencies. The headquarters of this network of departments and branches is based in Bosk House, situated in the province of Friesland, in The Netherlands.

In fact, the work started in 1980 with o­ne of the agencies, namely
Educational & Cultural Task Forces (Ecutaf) . After 10 years of experience with development work in Africa for United Nations (Unesco, Unicef and the UN Economic Commission of Africa) it became more and more clear to me that part of some failures could be traced back to the idea that educational and other strategies easily could be transferred to the so called developing countries. Thus, it was decided to establish an organization aiming at educational development based o­n the cultural background of the particular countries. Consequently, local specialists had to be involved. In most cases cultural anthropologists were requested to give their vision during preparation and execution of projects. The terminology 'task forces' was chosen because we wanted to point at the fact that Ecutaf aims at reacting efficiently, effectively and without the time consuming bureaucracy of most organizations receiving special requests from schools, universities, educational decision makers and governments. With around 80 specialists in their field of expertise, I am proud to say that Ecutaf was the first private foundation in the world with this philosophy. For more details about the strategy of Ecutaf, I invite you to study the information in this page.

During a meeting at Bosk House with Dutch, German and English professors we were challenged to think about establishing an open university with students all over the world. After ample considerations and discussions, we decided in 1981 to register
Intercultural Open University (IOU) in The Netherlands making sure that sufficient high level scientists, scholars, researchers and other persons were available and willing to assist in this endeavor. IOU is not just another open university assisting students in various continents. In the critical situations our world is experiencing, we are convinced that humanity not o­nly needs political programs and actions, but also a vision of a peaceful living together of peoples, ethnic and ethical groups, and religions. It needs hopes, goals, ideals, standards. Too long old strategies have been used as the solution to the new problems individuals and societies are facing at the eve of the 21st century.


Where Ecutaf is using the bottum-up approach, IOU starts at the other end by assisting the intelligentia to contribute to development of their society. 'Intercultural' means that learners are challenged to include aspects of different cultures in their studies assisted by professors with various cultural backgrounds. Next to the necessary knowledge, experience and skills, IOU also aims at 'self-responsible self-determination'. To reach this ideal, IOU has introduced individualized programs for masters' and doctorate degrees, that learners have the opportunity with assistance from specialists to ultimate develop their own tailor-made program. In preparing their program, learners explore their own situation and surroundings, include their own wishes, interests and specialities, basing the program o­n future expectations. Of course, an IOU committee is responsible that each and every individual program has high level academic standards. The bachelor students, however, need more assistance, therefore, IOU has developed modular programs. The information o­n this home page will give you more details. It will show, e.g. that IOU starting as a small institution for higher learning has developed to a larger university with departments and branches in various countries in Europe, North America, Asia and Africa with its logistic and research centre in The Netherlands.

To reach students, we have been making use of the postal services, facsimile and telephone. But where the technology is bringing us into the information era, we decided in January 1996 to enter the Super Highway of Internet. We found that Internet contains sufficient scientific information for IOU learners for a number of selected subjects, which you will find mentioned o­n the page under
Cyberspace Faculty . Next to assisting learners to make good use of the computer in general and of the Internet information in particular, we aim at using the compiled information as an enormous global library, to enter discussion groups, to correspond with top class scholars, and to distinguish what is worthwhile and what not. Cyberspace Faculty is another way for learners to discover possibilities and to develop intellectually. For those who are not interested or able to make use of Internet, the normal IOU approach continues. In a lecture of the International Council for Innovation of Higher Education (Budapest, 1990), I summarized the philosophical task for higher education as follows: "The consciousness of the 21st century will be global from two perspectives:

  • from a horizontal perspective, cultures are meeting each other o­n the surface of the globe, entering into creative encounters that will produce a complexified collective consciousness;
  • from a vertical perspective, they must plunge their roots deep into the earth and reach outfar into the universe in order to provide a stable and secure base for future development.

This global consciousness must be organically ecological, supported by structures that will insure justice and peace."

This leads us to annunciate eco-centered or bio-centered ethics. We find all over the world more and more interest in this particular aspect, and IOU also has responsibility in this field.

The past can be as early as yesterday.

Although the IOU family is future oriented, this certainly does not mean that we do not include and respect the way of life, culture and philosophy of peoples in the past. o­n the contrary, IOU stresses in its philosophy and educational strategy, historical wisdom. In the context of bio-ethics, very ancient cultures, for instance, worshipped nature and considered all beings as sacred. In a sense, eco-ethics close an enormous circle and rejoin those ancient people who lived the wholeness of the universe and the sacredness of all beings in it in their daily intense experience. Their consciousness and the vibrant rhythms of their rituals have survived to our times. In fact, we all respond to these rituals o­n the cellular level. Modern biology proves that our cells, our blood system and the entire chemistry of life beat the same rhythm of all forms around us. In general terms we can state that "problems coming up at this time and at this place might be the problems of all times and all places." (Langeveld, Dutch philosopher) Consequently, a study of past solutions can give clarification and ideas for problem resolution now and here. This certainly is true for subjects such as the humanities, philosophy and comparative religious studies.

Not o­nly in programs and studies of students, publications of professors and scholars, IOU has most clearly shown its position by doing research o­n alternative medical approaches. In 1988, IOU conducted research in the field of Oriental Medicine in general, and, Japanese approaches in particular. Originating in Japan the international organization:
International Federation of Alternative Medicine (IFAM) has its Headquarters in The Netherlands since 1993. Very close relations have been established with IOU. Therefore, IFAM can make use of the scientific expertise of IOU to undertake scholarly research projects. Furthermore, IOU is in a position to promote oriental medical approaches in contact with other universities.

This research becomes really urgent because many patients, in especially the western countries get more and more frustrated with the so-called allopathic medicine. In the United States more visits are made to alternative therapists than to regular medical doctors, and the trend is the same in most of the countries in Western Europe. In connection with what is said before about our historical past, we can say that allopathic medicine is 'laboratory-tested' and oriental medicine is in many cases 'time-tested'. We have now arrived to the period that also 'time-tested' approaches are subject to scientific research. Although IOU does not hesitate to state that not all medical approaches can scientifically be tested and proven. In some cases, IOU has to admit that we are confronted with mystery and thus we have to leave it to the field of mystery.


In 1996, IOU has decided to strengthen connections with the source of oriental medicine. In collaboration with specialists of the famous Universities of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing and Shanghai new approaches and equipment will be introduced and research projects conducted.


In the IOU course Health Science, alternative and oriental medicine are playing a very important role; especially Chinese, Japanese and Indian medical approaches. Most countries can learn from Chinese and Indian health care: we therefore find not the division - nor fight - between school- and alternative medical therapists; but cooperation! Most universities and hospitals in China respectively teach and practice both disciplines.


On the other hand, IOU is worried about the way alternative therapists are trained and educated. We think that in comparison with the countries of origin, Western students therapists like there need a high level of educational, ethical and psychological standards. More information about IFAM can be found in other parts of this home page.

The roads 'Agents of Change' have chosen aren't always easy. Health and Education seem to be very sensitive fields. IFAM not o­nly promotes alternative medical techniques, it also insists o­n a high ethical and professional level of its members and , o­n the other hand, assists in cases of law suits to its members. In the same way two specialized organizations are working in the field of Higher Education, namely: the
Accrediting Commission for Colleges and Universities (ACCU, Spain) and the International Association for Distance learning (IADL, U.K.). Independent universities with innovative programs sometimes have a hard time to survive. Governmental and political bureaucracy many times hamper the introduction and excecution of modern didactical approaches and new subjects.


Private institutions and foundations, however, are many times in a better position to take the lead to change and improve educational programs and make them more adjusted to the demands of the future. In a number of countries not o­nly rules and regulations are making this difficult, also traditional universities are not in favor of those they regard as competitors in their field of competence. Even in countries with a free and liberal approach towards innovation in general, higher education seems to be exceptional and seems to belong to state controlled institutions. The weapon used is 'recognition' and 'accreditation'. Most international companies and organizations, however, are not reluctant at all to appoint employees with an educational background of non-traditional universities. o­n the contrary, they look more at the knowledge, skills and motivation of appointees. Public and government offices and organizations, however, are less positive about acceptance of diplomes and degrees. In the same way as is described for alternative practitioners, we are of the opinion that also universities need a high academic educational and professional level. This is the reason that ACCU - international - provides those universities protection and assistance in order to keep high academic standards.

Last but not least I want to mention the
League of International Universities (LIU) . More and more universities are making use of the possibilities of modern ways of communication. Their area is not o­nly the learners within the borders of the countries of origin, but they also offer courses to learners in other areas of the world. It is obvious that those institutions of higher learning have special ideas and problems. It is therefore, that the the League, including the Dutch University Consortium (DUC) offers special opportunities for exchange of information, expertise and degrees to enlarge the facilities of the respective member institutions and to facilitate the learning opportunities of learners all over the world. More information o­n LIU is included in this home page.

From the above information it is clear to the readers that we are open for comments and ideas. Furthermore, we invite persons from all ages, nationalities and races to become part and parcel of the community of scholars, researchers and learners.



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