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Why isn't anyone talking about the profits generated by foreign students?


Amid the wide range of concerns raised about the huge influx of foreign students, one thing can be said for certain: they are a source of public revenue. Shouldn't this knowledge help put the worries to rest?

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On Friday, Education, Culture and Science Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven announced measures to place limits on the growing numbers of international students and English-language study programmes. She hopes these will help safeguard the quality and accessibility of education.

She does not appear to have had any financial reasons for intervening. Last week, financial experts at CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis again concluded that the internationalisation of higher education generates a lot of money for our country. Students hailing from outside Europe are particularly profitable: neither research universities nor universities of applied sciences receive government funding for their education and after graduating, they tend to remain in the country. On average, net proceeds amount to 68,500 euros per student in higher professional education programmes and 96,300 euros per student in programmes in an academic discipline.

This stands in stark contrast to the outrage over spending cuts in higher education. And yet, these financial gains are barely considered in discussions on internationalisation. The CPB's report has not led to any questions from members of parliament. How can this be?

The opponents of internationalisation can of course be expected to stay fairly quiet about it. But even its supporters prefer to argue the substantive rather than the financial merits, asserting that attracting talented students would improve the quality of education and, moreover, that it helps the Dutch learn how to deal with other cultures. And indeed, businesses are eager to hire certain graduates.

Perhaps the proponents think talking about money is bad manners – or maybe they're afraid of being called money-grubbers. But they are ignoring an argument that is there for the taking.

Fake news?
The critics of internationalisation point to the anglicisation of education and suggest that if lecturers and students are not sufficiently proficient in English, the education may lack depth.  When they discuss money, they say that the growing numbers of students are eroding the budget. They also disregard the CPB's predictions about the proceeds.

As a result, the profits generated from internationalisation continue to be ignored in the political arena. It seems that there are two possibilities: either you take these proceeds seriously and start thinking about allocating additional funds to education, or you decide that the claims made by the CPB researchers were all just fake news.

But let's say internationalisation really is generating so much money. If that's the case, why not try to become the European leader in higher education? Especially with the United Kingdom turning further and further away from Europe due to Brexit, this presents an opportunity, which, at the very least, is worth taking seriously. And if there is enough money, Dutch students do not need to be disadvantaged.

Hop / Hein Cuppen

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