Minister Bussemaker informed the House of Representatives that it is impossible to give priority to Dutch students over European students in the case of degree programmes with an entry quota. A share of the opposition remained unconvinced.

Is it actually fair that Dutch and foreign students have the same chance of being accepted in a programme with a restricted intake, wondered PVV Member of Parliament Harm Beertema. Shouldn’t Dutch nationals be given priority?

Beertema submitted a motion to this end. As it is, the House of Representatives wasn’t particularly comfortable with the freeze on admissions announced by various universities of technology. Some party groups believe it is a strange situation when Dutch students are turned away while foreign applicants are admitted. The Socialist Party (SP), the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the Reformed Political Party (SGP), among other parties, all voted in favour of the PVV motion during the House’s Tuesday session.

Too simple

Minister Bussemaker had advised against this motion during the debate on the education budget. She emphasised the importance of international students, who not only form a source of income for the universities, but also help give concrete shape to the ‘international classroom’ concept.

The CDA was not persuaded by Bussemaker’s argument. Three out of four international students leave the Netherlands after graduation. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to reserve their spots for Dutch applicants? According to the Minister, this line of reasoning was too simple. “I don’t think employers would be happy if we no longer had any spots open for foreign students,” said Bussemaker.

Discourage non-European applicants

Moreover, as she explained in a supplementary letter to the House of Representatives, it is actually impossible to arrange a priority treatment for Dutch nationals: universities are prohibited by law to distinguish between EU and Dutch applicants. She did admit that institutions have the option of discouraging non-EU applicants with high tuition fees.

Nevertheless, the Minister’s responses indicate that all things considered, she believes that excluding international applicants is a bad idea. And a majority of the House of Representatives agrees with her. Two years ago the SP also posed questions about this particular subject, and the Cabinet followed the same line of reasoning.

In this context the government referred to research previously published by CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, which showed that a surprisingly small number of international students actually have to stay in the Netherlands for their presence to have a positive impact on the Dutch economy. In other words, international students are good news for the ‘bottom line’ of the Netherlands.