To control the influx of students from abroad

Cautious optimism about Dijkgraaf’s internationalisation plans

Student. Foto: Pixabay

The influx of international students has led to heated debates in the Dutch Parliament. MPs seemed to agree that internationalisation is a positive thing, but should so many foreign students be coming here? What effect does such an influx have on the housing market, the quality of education and the position of Dutch as an academic language?

Dijkgraaf stayed calm. He tossed a bill drafted by his predecessor and asked for more time to think about it. After all, getting international talent in the Netherlands is of great importance.

He took his time, indeed: his letter to the House of Representatives was postponed a number of times. Last Friday, however, he finally sent it. In it, the minister says he'd like to introduce some sort of "centralised control". He also announced a number of measures.

Programmes will be able to hit the emergency brake if too many students from outside Europe enrol. They will also be allowed to introduce a limit to the number of students on English-language tracks, while the Dutch-language tracks will remain available to all. Last but not least, all students from abroad will have to learn at least a little bit of Dutch. 

Hatte van der Woude, VVD
“I'm not sure exactly what he aims to achieve with this centralised control. He’s leaving quite some room for interpretation. We had already asked for the possibility of an emergency limit to the number of students, a maximum number of tracks in other languages, and measures to control the number of students from outside the European Economic Area. Now, Dijkgraaf going to put forward a bill to that effect. I’m pleased that he is no longer trying to wriggle out of it but a lot of time has been lost.”

Pieter Omtzigt, independent member of the House
“It’s good that the government finally acknowledges that there are major problems with the number of international students in the Netherlands and is finally proposing a few minor changes to policy. But the measures are still a bit meagre. There are 115,000 international students in this country. Forty percent of the students at Dutch universities come from abroad. Universities are important and expensive places that are funded from Dutch tax revenue to give opportunities to Dutch young people.” Omtzigt also asked for  more clarity on the minister’s planned language policy.

Lisa Westerveld, GroenLinks
“There are no concrete plans yet. I understand his guiding principles: of course, internationalisation matters and there are problem areas. But what’s the best way of dealing with them? He is simply putting off the major issues, such as the question of funding. His letter mostly addresses urgent problems, it provides no long-term direction. It’s clear that something has to be done. Internationalisation is actually a victim of its own success: the policy was so successful that universities are now bursting at the seams.”

Joram van Velzen, Dutch Student Union
“It’s good that there will be control of the intake, given all the negative effects on mental well-being, quality of education and accommodation. But we’re unhappy that the Minister wants to make a distinction between European and non-European students. It’s sheer discrimination to reject someone because of their country of origin. That mustn’t be laid down by law.”

Terri van der Velden, Dutch National Students' Association
“It was about time these measures were announced. But we wonder whether these instruments will restore the balance. It’s essential that it doesn’t become too open-ended. The introduction of centralised control seems to show that the minister is taking responsibility, and that’s a good sign. We hope this will prevent a patchwork of measures and that more account will be taken of regional differences.”

Maurice Limmen, Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences
“The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences applauds the minister’s carefully chosen tone in the lively public debate on international students”, they say in a statement posted on their website. President Maurice Limmen declares: “It’s a good thing that universities of applied sciences are getting more ways of controlling the international intake.”

Pieter Duisenberg, Universities of the Netherlands
“International talent is essential for the Netherlands”, says President Pieter Duisenberg. “Both for the quality of teaching and research at the universities and for the labour market. In some study programmes, however, student numbers have grown by too much or too quickly to maintain the quality of education and manage the workload. So, since 2018, we have been asking for instruments to assist us in this regard. We appreciate it that the minister is now facilitating this customisation.” He also believes that funding for universities ought to be less dependent on student numbers.

Nuffic, national organisation for internationalisation in education
“Nuffic is pleased with this well-considered letter, in which the Minister stresses the added value of internationalisation and announces a targeted approach to problem areas”, states Director-General Titia Bredée. Nuffic would like to see obstacles to Dutch students studying abroad being removed, so there is a more "balance."