Higher education faces challenging times, says Annet Lekkerkerker, member of the Executive Board of the Amsterdam University of the Arts (AHK). With thirty percent of AHK students coming from abroad, the question now is whether this can continue.

There is no way of knowing the future make-up of the government, says Lekkerkerker, so she wouldn’t call herself ‘worried’ just yet. She is simply seizing on the election result to reiterate how important international students are to the Dutch economy. As well as to the quality of the education offered in this country. “The talented international students who come to us are also a reason why good specialist teachers are keen to work here. Dutch students also gain from this situation.”

Majority

Together, the PVV, NSC and VVD have a majority in the House of Representatives and all three have cited limiting the influx of international students as a priority. The parties have previously said they want to make it mandatory for programmes that are currently taught in English to continue in Dutch. They reason that this will automatically decrease the appeal of these programmes to international students.

In a joint response, the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, Universities of the Netherlands, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW) and various other organisations also warn against “heavy-handed” constraints on the influx of international students.

Marcel Levi, President of the Executive Board of the Dutch Research Council (NWO), put it somewhat less diplomatically yesterday, when he said that moves to ban international students from technical universities would amount to “the Netherlands wringing its own neck”.

Less tolerant

The overwhelming victory by right-wing parties in the election makes some students feel they are not wanted here. This applies to international students, who have faced a frosty, bordering on unwelcoming political climate for some time already, as well as Muslim students, who have suddenly seen an anti-Islam party become the largest party in the Netherlands.

Elisa Weehuizen, President of the Dutch Student Union, said that yesterday she had already received several reactions from Muslim students, amongst others, who suddenly felt a lot less welcome. “There is a feeling amongst them of a declining tolerance for praying at school or wearing headscarves.”

That students should feel welcome is also the key message of Vinod Subramaniam, President of the Executive Board of the University of Twente. As a “new Dutch citizen” himself, he is keen to stress that, as far as he is concerned, the University of Twente is and will remain an open and inclusive community, reports Utoday. “Together, we make a stand against exclusion and ensure that the societal and political debate does not distance us from each other.”