With almost all of the votes counted, the party of Geert Wilders is the leading party by far, which may have major consequences for higher education and academic research.

One thing is for sure: migration will be a major theme in the upcoming negotiations for a new cabinet. Soon, a large majority of the House of Representatives will want to limit the intake of international students in higher education.

PVV, NSC and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) combined already have 81 of the 150 seats. They want to make the language of instruction for bachelor programmes Dutch again, although the VVD argues that an exception should be made for technical universities.

Since they do not speak the language, international students will simply stay away, or so these parties believe. With the support of the Farmer–Citizen Movement (BBB), the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and one or two other parties, these plans will easily pass the Senate, even if Pieter Omtzigt’s party does not have any representatives there yet.

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After all, BBB (16), VVD (10), CDA (6) and PVV (4) already have 36 of the 75 seats in the Senate. To get a majority, they only need two more seats, for example from the Reformed Political Party (SGP) or Forum for Democracy (FvD). On this issue, even the Socialist Party (SP) or the Party for the Animals (PvdD) would support the right-wing parties with their votes, since these left-wing parties also want to reinforce the Dutch language in higher education.

Will Dutch become the language of instruction for all bachelor programmes? It would take a lot of work to introduce such a big change. “It will have to be done one step at a time”, Pieter Omtzigt said during the election campaign, “as a number of lecturers still have English as their native tongue. I wouldn’t try to change that in a single year. Reforming the system like that would take three or four years.”

Even that would be impossibly fast. The coalition negotiations could still take months. After that, the new Minister of Education, Culture and Science would need to introduce a bill, which would need to be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

That bill would definitely not come into effect before the 2025-2026 academic year, and probably not before the following year. At that point, the transition period could begin, but the new cabinet might even already have collapsed by then.


Besides, the universities in particular would fight this bill with all they had. They would use protests, lobbying and perhaps even legal action to try to maintain their international position. Some of the universities of applied sciences with a strong international profile would likely do the same.

Now that things are getting serious, it is unclear how radically the political parties intend to change course. Should all bachelor programmes be taught entirely in Dutch? At one point, Omtzigt mentioned an exception for ‘no more than 20 per cent of the programmes’.

In that case, which exceptions will be possible? Can catering schools and art academies continue on as usual? Will university colleges still be a thing? And will programmes like international business even remain feasible? There is a decent chance that some committee will have to look into this, in consultation with the higher education sector. That would then take another year.

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‘Big stick’ approach

There is also a chance the new governing parties will use a ‘big stick’ approach. They could cut funding for bachelor programmes by 400 million euros, in advance of agreements on internationalisation and the language of instruction. This amount is based on calculations by the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB). For many universities, this presents a bleak outlook, and it will likely cause problems for higher professional education as well.

The investments in higher education and research will be comprised either way, even if NSC has argued for a ‘substantial budget for fundamental academic research and knowledge valorisation’. VVD intends to introduce spending cuts of 1.3 billion euros.

Spending cuts aside: how will the budget for academic research be allocated, now that the country has swung to the political right? It is likely that economic benefits and social utility will take on a larger role again. Right-wing parties are more interested in science and technology, although they might be willing to spend some extra money on national history and Dutch studies. Either way, there will likely be less scope for free research.

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Unless the negotiations for a new coalition prove fruitless and the Dutch public has to go back to the voting box. In that case, anything could happen. Even if a new cabinet is formed, with or without Geert Wilders as prime minister, it remains to be seen how stable this is. They may simply not have enough time to introduce major changes in higher education.