This feels like a betrayal: internationals saddened by new policy
They were lured in with advertisements about ‘an international-friendly place’ but are now being ‘thrown under the bus’, say foreign students. ‘This goes against everything the university promised.’
Mark Reid en Elena van der Klok
Monday 4 March 2024
Illustration Schot

In 2023, 23 percent of first-year bachelor’s students and 35 percent of first-year master’s students were from abroad. Those numbers are too high, according to Minister Dijkgraaf at least, who wants to introduce the new Balanced Internationalisation Bill. Although it is not yet in effect, universities are already preparing to reduce the number of non-Dutch students.
It is not yet certain what will happen, but it is likely that the number of English-taught courses and programmes will be reduced substantially. How do international students feel about this? Mare asked international students what they think of the upcoming plans.
‘There are people trying to make the university more open and welcoming to international students,’ says Tim Kerkhoff (23, urban studies) from Germany. ‘That’s also how it was advertised, as an international-friendly place. But now, there’s a counter-movement saying: “Hold on, we don’t want to get too international!” That goes against everything the university promised. It feels like a betrayal.’


Jokin de Carlos (25, international relations) from Spain shares this experience. ‘It’s as if Dutch politicians, especially the populists, are throwing us under the bus without offering an alternative. We pay a lot of money for our studies, housing and food, which benefits the Dutch economy. Pub owners in Leiden and The Hague will be very sad to see international students leave.’

‘I’m not that worried. There are plenty of other countries that do still welcome foreign students’

Apart from the new policy, De Carlos feels that international students have many other extra hurdles to overcome. ‘Finding housing is extra difficult for us, especially in Leiden where the associations seem to have a kind of monopoly on student houses. Unlike Dutch students, we don’t get a student public transport chip card. That would enable us to look for housing further away, which would in turn relieve the pressure on student rooms.’
International student organisation ESN is also concerned. ‘We started getting nervous when we heard the election results,' says Japanese board member Joh Noguchi. ‘Because of the new plans, fewer internationals will come to Leiden, and so, fewer people will join our organisation.’
In order to gauge the mood, ESN decided to conduct a small survey among its members. The results showed that 70 percent of the members are worried about the upcoming plans. ‘This habit of blaming internationals for problems like housing leads to hatred,’ says one of the respondents. ‘Internationals should be seen as added value rather than something to get rid of.’
Another respondent reacts nonchalantly: ‘I’m not that worried, personally. There are plenty of other countries that do still welcome foreign students. I’d be more worried if I were Dutch, because this policy damages the reputation of the Netherlands as an international hub.’


A third expresses criticism about the lack of opportunities to learn Dutch, which will be necessary if language requirements are introduced under the new policy: ‘It’s not that we don’t want to learn Dutch, but it’s simply impossible to learn to speak Dutch at an academic level in such a very short amount of time.’

‘Politics is using these students as a scapegoat for the problems caused by unbalanced government policies’

Kerkhoff agrees with the latter: ‘I speak a little Dutch, but it’s difficult to become well integrated in terms of the language. The courses offered by the Language Centre are very expensive. I’ll stick to DuoLingo and simply talking to people. Almost all the information the government provides about things such as healthcare allowance or the basic student grant is largely in Dutch, so you either need to know a Dutch person who can explain it to you or figure it out yourself.’

University Council member Ella Picavet of student party DSP, who advocates for internationals, is not pleased with the new policy. ‘For years, internationalisation has been encouraged and the university has projected an international image. Now, politics is using these students as a scapegoat for the problems caused by unbalanced government policies, claiming that this is the panacea that will fix all the problems.’
‘It seems to be difficult for the Netherlands to find a middle ground,’ De Carlos concludes. ‘It feels like they want an all-or-nothing approach, either fully internationalized or strictly Dutch. I really like it here, but when I consider how useful the language is, I may be better off choosing to learn German and getting my master’s degree in Germany.’