Putting the brake on internationals
Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66) wants to introduce measures to limit the number of international students. The Cabinet has agreed to the submission of her legislative proposal to the House of Representatives, but the Council of State has doubts about the effects.
Sebastiaan van Loosbroek
Thursday 26 September 2019

An interdepartmental policy study reveals that the funding, quality and accessibility of Dutch education may be at risk if the number of international students continues to rise.

Van Engelshoven: “Research reveals that the increase of English-language programmes and international students is putting too much pressure on higher education. Accordingly, I am taking steps to protect the quality and accessibility of our education and to ensure that the internationalisation of our higher education is more evenly balanced.”

Firstly, the minister wants more focus on Dutch language and linguistic proficiency, which are now under threat: in 2018, 28 per cent of the bachelor degree programmes and 76 of the master programmes at university could only be followed in English, according to the “Detailed report on the language and accessibility bill”.

The study states that students’ Dutch language skills are deteriorating due to the English-language programmes. Already, the law says that educational institutions must stimulate the Dutch communication skills of Dutch students, but Van Engelshoven wants institutions to stimulate the Dutch language proficiency of foreign students too. The aim is to promote the development of Dutch as an academic language and hopefully keep more internationals in the Netherlands once they have graduated. In addition, the minister wants to make it mandatory for institutions that want to teach a programme in a language other than Dutch to demonstrate that such a programme will be of more value to the students.

Furthermore, the minister wants to make it possible to introduce enrolment restrictions for series of courses within a programme that are only given in another language, so that there is no need to introduce a student quota for an entire bachelor programme. That measure is to tackle the capacity problems caused by the growing intake of international students on English-language courses but do not necessarily occur with the Dutch versions of those courses.

Moreover, Van Engelshoven wants to raise the institution tuition fees for non-EEA students (students from outside the EU, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway) so that the intake of those students will not put more pressure on the institutions’ funds.

The Council of State, however, believes that the proposals will have little effect and suggests a review of the bill before it is submitted to the House of Representatives. The Council wants clearer explanations from the minister regarding the specific problems the bill is to solve and the causes of those problems. In addition, the Council of State has reminded the minister that the results of Van Rijn Committee’s report need to be properly incorporated into the bill. VSNU, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, says that there are certain obstacles related to the policy on language, for example. VSNU is aware of the importance of being able to speak Dutch, but fears that the minister’s plans could damage the Netherlands’ international reputation.

Internationals are good for the treasury

A study by CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis issued last week reveals that international students generate far more cash than they cost; in particular, students from outside the EU are very good for the Dutch Treasury. On average, those students cost 160,000 Euros but generate, over time, 250,000 Euros. So, in the net, the Netherlands makes a 90,000-Euro profit from these students. Students from other EU countries generate about 17,000 Euros.

It must be noted that the Netherlands only actually sees that money if the students remain in the Netherlands after they graduate and pay taxes here. If all those students return to home when they have finished their courses, the Netherlands loses that revenue. So, as far as Van Engelshoven’s suggestions for language policy is concerned, it could be profitable for the Dutch Treasury if internationals were to learn more Dutch, because it might encourage them to stay here.