Universities to welcome even more students

In the EU, there has been an increase of 6.5 percent in enrollment figures for first-year Bachelor's students. Photo: DUB

As a rule, prospective students are required to register for a higher education programme before the 1st of May. Now that the deadline has passed, the institutions can set about making an estimate: how many first-year students can they expect to welcome in September?

From around 100,000 Bachelor’s applications at last year’s deadline, this year the total has risen to around 105,000. In other words, all the indicators suggest yet another increase in the number of students.

Figures from previous years suggest that up to one third of them will end up not pursuing their application. Some will opt out in favour of a gap year, while others will fail to get the grades they need, and international applicants may end up going to another country. Last year, 65,000 of the 100,000 applications received were followed up. In light of this year’s total, that would amount to 69,000 first-year students entering Bachelor’s programmes in September.

The comparison with last year is trickier than usual, as the 2020 deadline was pushed back a month – from the 1st of May to the 1st of June – due to the coronavirus crisis.

Not keeping up
Dutch universities have been complaining for years that research funding has not kept up with the growing number of students, which results in a decline in the sum available per student. This year’s figures show no signs of a reversal in this trend.

At 40,000, the number of international applications is also higher than last year. Based on past experience, 20 to 40 percent of these applications are likely to be honoured. Last year, universities thought the global pandemic might deter international students, but against the odds their numbers remained steady.

Pieter Duisenberg, president of the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU) told journalists that the universities would like to have more control over the influx of international students by being allowed to set a quota for international students, so that programmes are not overwhelmed by applicants from abroad.

English versus Dutch
A bill currently awaiting approval by the Senate has been designed to cushion the impact of internationalisation on higher education, especially when it comes to the language of instruction. It proposes offering two tracks in programmes which restrict the number of students: one taught in English and one in Dutch. numbers on the English one could be restricted, while Dutch-speaking students would have unrestricted access to the programme through the other track. That would ensure restrictions would not come at the expense of Dutch students.

Duisenberg believes this measure does not go far enough. He would prefer to see more options for admitting or excluding international students, even in programmes where student numbers are not restricted. In any case, the education bill has been shelved for the time being, awaiting the formation of a new coalition government.

In the meantime, universities are continuing to increase the number of English-taught programmes they offer, especially at Master’s level. Given their apprehension about the number of international students, surely one option would be to teach more programmes in Dutch? However, the universities do not see this as a solution. They argue that the decision to teach a programme in English often has more to do with improving standards and preparing students more effectively for their chosen profession. The universities’ position is that internationalisation is a good thing, but it will bring even greater benefits if it is managed effectively.

Universities of applied sciences
The situation in higher professional education is different. Universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands have seen a decline of almost seven percent in the number of applications.