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Dutch universities: steps to manage influx of international students

With immediate effect, Dutch universities will be taking measures to manage the influx of international students and improve their English language skills. They are committed to reducing the intake of international students, reducing the percentage of English-taught Bachelor’s programmes, increasing the number of Dutch-language degree programmes and strengthening the Dutch language proficiency of both lecturers and students. Jouke de Vries, acting president of UNL: ‘Internationalisation is very important for the Dutch universities and Dutch society, but it also brings about challenges and tensions. To preserve the added value of internationalisation, we want to tackle these challenges in earnest.’

"Not sit still and wait for legislation"

"It is good that, as universities, we have arrived at a common vision setting out how to manage the influx of international students. The exact elaboration will vary from university to university. How we do that at ours is something we will take up with the many stakeholders involved in education. In any case, what is clear is that we cannot sit still and wait for legislation. We have to be proactive on this subject and find a way forward that fits in with who we are and what we stand for," the Executive Board of the University of Twente states.

Read the reflection of UT's Executive Board here.

The value of internationalisation is beyond doubt

Internationalisation is of great importance to the Netherlands. It contributes to a stimulating study environment, creates a connection to international scientific developments, and trains much-needed talent for the labour market. In addition, international students also have significant value for the Dutch economy. The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis CPB has calculated that their net contribution is almost €17,000 per European student, and up to €96,000 per student from outside the European Economic Area.

At the same time, the universities recognise that the growth in the number of international students is also leading to challenges in some areas. Large numbers of international students can put pressure on the accessibility and quality of education, and there is insufficient student accommodation in some cities. To ensure the quality and accessibility of the Dutch universities, the universities have drafted a guideline to better manage internationalisation, taking into account regional and sectoral differences. Minister Dijkgraaf has encouraged this self-management by the sector. Concurrently, the House of Representatives has asked all universities (through the Hertzberger motion) to draw up a plan to reduce the proportion of English-taught degree programmes. 

The universities feel a collective responsibility to take action and have unanimously arrived at this package together, although the problems vary between regions. The measures will, therefore, have a different impact on different universities, as their baseline situation – for example, with regard to the number of international students – differs. 

Control instruments essential to managing influx

The universities will also be taking steps to curb the influx of international students. They will no longer recruit at international fairs, except for degree programmes associated with sectors with large labour market shortages. In addition, the universities have agreed to stop the preparatory year for international prospective students. 

Twente Pathway College

In the discussion on internationalisation, research universities have agreed not to offer a preparatory year in the future for international students who do not meet the starting qualifications for a bachelor's degree. The University of Twente has an agreement with Navitas for an international foundation year within Twente Pathway College until August 2026. This means that students in the academic year 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 can still use Twente Pathway College to obtain the starting qualifications for a bachelor's degree at UT.

To manage the intake effectively, it is essential that degree programmes be given the legal option to impose an enrolment quota only for the English-taught track of a programme, rather than for the programme as a whole. Only this will ensure full accessibility to Dutch-speaking students and curb the number of international students. The universities have been advocating for this since 2018. The current legislation still prohibits this. 

More Dutch-taught degree programmes

The universities will also start offering more Dutch-taught degree programmes. They agree that all major Bachelor’s programmes will at least be taught in Dutch. Moreover, the universities are currently identifying which English-taught degree programmes can be fully converted to Dutch. The universities have furthermore agreed that no new English-taught Bachelor’s programmes will be developed for the time being. 

The universities are also firmly committed to strengthening the Dutch language proficiency of both lecturers and students. With these measures, the universities not only ensure greater accessibility for Dutch students, but also strengthen the Dutch language throughout academia. 

Ensuring that students stay after their studies

Society benefits from international students working in the Netherlands after their studies. Currently, about a third of the international students do so; in the engineering sector, this percentage is even higher. Every university will develop a multi-year plan with regional and national employers to increase the stay rate of international graduates. 

De Vries: ‘With this package of measures, the universities are taking their responsibility to respond to society’s concerns, to safeguard the quality of education, to address problems, to protect the top international position of our science and to implement a sustainable influx of international students. To achieve this, we need the support of politicians, at least in the form of drafting legal instruments to manage the influx as soon as possible.’ 

Universities will now work on developing and implementing the measures, in dialogue with the staff and student participation bodies. A more detailed plan will follow in mid-March in response to the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

This news item was published on the website of Universiteiten van Nederland. You can find the full package of measures here.