Universities in the Netherlands decide to reduce their internationalization.

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Posted on February 17, 2024


4 min read

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In an attempt to prioritize the Dutch language and ease the burden on student housing, fourteen Dutch institutions have announced intentions to eliminate the number of degrees offered in English and decrease the enrollment of foreign students. 

No new bachelor’s programs in the English language will be created going forward, and universities will evaluate which English-taught courses can be converted to be taught solely in Dutch. 

The institutions are also supporting the legal possibility of enforcing enrollment quotas for programs taught in English, even though the existing statute forbids them.

UNL spokesman Ruben Puylaert stated, “Only this will ensure full accessibility to Dutch-speaking students and curb the number of international students, which universities have been advocating for since 2018.”

The actions, which were approved by UNL, an association of 14 prestigious Dutch universities, are intended to improve instructors’ and students’ command of the Dutch language and guarantee that all major bachelor’s degrees are offered in the language.

For Dutch universities and society as a whole, internationalization is crucial, but it also presents difficulties and conflicts. We want to address these issues seriously in order to maintain the benefits of internationalization, according to UNL interim president Jouke de Vries.

The majority of the remaining 18% of bachelor’s programs are currently taught bilingually, with 52% of them being taught in Dutch and 30% in English, according to the NL Times.  

English is the language of instruction for over 76% of master’s programs, yet the current plans only apply to bachelor’s degrees.

The recommendations prohibit active recruitment at international fairs, with the exception of industries experiencing severe shortages in the labor market. 

About 25% of all students enrolled in higher education in the Netherlands are from outside the country; the vast majority of these students are from Germany and other countries that are part of the European Economic Area. 

The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis estimates that during their academic careers, international students from Europe contribute a net amount of roughly €17,000 to the Dutch economy, with contributions from students outside the European Economic Area reaching up to €96,000. 

Furthermore, after graduating, one-third of overseas students continue to work in the Netherlands. 

Universities are currently attempting to reduce the number of foreign students notwithstanding this economic benefit in order to relieve pressure on a system that they claim is overcrowded and becoming more difficult for Dutch students to access.

The institutions claim in a joint statement that limiting internationalization will “protect the top international position of our science” and “safeguard the quality of education.” 

However, detractors have cautioned that the actions may reduce the potential for fostering business and scientific links internationally as well as for Dutch students studying outside. 

The statement from the Netherlands follows Canada’s announcement of a cap on foreign enrollment because of housing difficulties and worries about the welfare of these students abroad. 

International students occupy over one-third of available spots in student housing in the Netherlands, forcing many Dutch students to live at home, according to the student housing organization Kences. 

More than 23,000 student housing units are currently lacking in the nation, and if nothing is invented, that number might rise to 57,000 by 2030.

Robbert Dijkgraaf, the departing minister of education, has urged the sector to self-manage and has since introduced the Balanced Internationalization Act.

The plan, which is a more drastic version of what the institutions were proposing, would cap the number of students enrolled in non-Dutch studies and mandate that each program be given in Dutch. 

Although the universities have welcomed the proposed restrictions on overseas students’ enrollment, many believe that the regulation of language training is being overreached. 

The measure would grant the education minister the authority to decide, based on a “non-Dutch-taught education assessment” that has not yet been finalized, whether a degree program may be taught in a language other than Dutch. 

As far as we are concerned, the study program and universities themselves get to decide which language is taught. Universities’ autonomy will be severely hampered if politics decides that, according to Puylaert. 

The Education Council expressed similar worries about the government’s excessive control over language study options in its assessment of the bill and emphasized how impractical it would be to hire Dutch teachers on such a wide scale. 

The national student organization, LSVb, echoed the institutions’ efforts to address the growing problem of internationalization, but cautioned against limiting course options to Dutch and granting the government the authority to set course content.