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The ‘internationals’ keep coming to the universities, but resistance is growing

The government must take measures more quickly to curb the influx of international students. Government parties VVD and CDA as well as opposition parties argued for this this week in the parliamentary debate on the education budget.

“It is time for a bill,” said VVD MP Hatte van der Woude. Faster and “firm” action must be taken, said Member of Parliament Harry van der Molen (CDA).

Over the past ten years, all universities have started offering English-taught programs for Dutch and foreign students. This results in more students and therefore money. It started in shrinking regions such as Limburg and Twente, where foreign growth was necessary to survive.

The English-taught bachelor’s and master’s programs are very popular because Dutch universities are relatively cheap and good. A quarter of all 340,000 students at the fourteen Dutch universities come from abroad.

Some cities, such as Amsterdam and Utrecht, are more popular with internationals than others. The interests in the academic world therefore diverge: Utrecht and Amsterdam, but also Groningen, have too many international students; other universities want more.

Last summer, the universities agreed with Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf (Education, D66) in an ‘administrative agreement’ that they would be ‘very reluctant’ to recruit students abroad. Unless the university is in a shrinking region or is looking for students for a crucial ‘shortage sector’ on the Dutch labor market.

Many universities are still actively recruiting international students on scholarships in other countries. The VU and Radboud were this month on fairs in Vietnam, among others. Just like the universities in Twente and Utrecht which appeared at the International Education Fair in Bangalore, India, in early November. Also gave the Tilburg University online open days for foreign bachelor candidates.

No hard means

Universities themselves have no hard means to keep international students out – for example, they are not allowed to select on the basis of nationality. The umbrella organization Universities of the Netherlands announced in September that twenty study programs would set a quota for foreign students, if allowed to do so. Pieter Duisenberg, chairman of the umbrella organization, said: “Since 2018, we have been asking for legislation that makes it possible to introduce a numerus fixus for English-language bachelors, while keeping the Dutch-language variant accessible. Can not. We also want study programs to be able to say, for example: a maximum of fifty students from outside Europe. Can’t either.”

According to MPs Van der Woude and Van der Molen, universities should soon be given the opportunity to apply precisely these measures. “We want smart internationalization, not an uncontrolled one,” says Van der Woude.

The international growth is putting pressure on the universities, which have seen their student numbers double over the past twenty years. It leads to packed lecture halls, high workload for lecturers and a major shortage of student rooms.

In addition, Dutch pre-university students often lose out in bachelor’s programs with a limited number of places, because they have to compete with pre-university students from all over the world. In psychology at the University of Amsterdam, for example, where a numerus fixus applies, two-thirds of bachelor’s students now come from abroad.

Read also: A quarter of all 340,000 university students now comes from abroad

The UvA, where the number of ‘internationals’ tripled in five years, decided not to wait for new legislation. In order to curb the lopsided growth in psychology, the UvA will introduce two separate numerus fixuses for the coming academic year – one for the Dutch-taught Bachelor’s program (260 students) and one for the English-taught Bachelor’s program (340). Officially, this is not allowed: there is one numerus fixus for the entire degree programme, per university, regardless of the language. But the UvA has been able to use the argument ‘Dutch language is necessary for the clinical field’ to secure more places for Dutch students.

Incidentally, studies such as medicine and veterinary medicine, where a numerus fixus also applies and a Dutch-language clinical practice, are taught entirely in Dutch.

Students in tents

CDA member Harry van der Molen advocates a regulated intake: smaller and more targeted. There is, he said, no need for more “German students who come to the Netherlands to study psychology in English.” The CDA proposed measures such as a stop to entirely English-taught Bachelor’s programs and the possibility of a numerus fixus for English-taught Master’s programmes.

The CDA also wants universities and universities of applied sciences to become responsible for housing international students. “This prevents students from having to be accommodated in tents or with staff and ensures that educational institutions do not take too much on their plate.”

Beter Onderwijs Nederland, which strives for sound education, has been calling for a reduction in the number of international students for some time now. Board member Felix Huygen is pleased that the House of Representatives is becoming more critical. “Students can by far best follow their Bachelor’s in Dutch. And foreigners who want to learn Dutch are also welcome. That also happened in the past, when there were far fewer English-taught bachelor’s degrees.”

In a written response to the House of Representatives, Minister Dijkgraaf says that he will present proposals early next year “to manage the influx of international students”. This concerns ‘the language of instruction, and the possibilities for a numerus fixus on foreign-language tracks or study programmes. The accessibility of higher education for Dutch students is and will remain an important starting point.”

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