We need to wait for a recommendation by the Education Council, said outgoing Minister Dijkgraaf last January, when critical members of the House of Representatives told him to get a move on with limiting the intake of foreign students.

For two years now, Dijkgraaf has been working on his bill ‘Internationalisering in Balans’ (Internationalisation in Equilibrium), a collection of measures intended to protect the Dutch language within higher education and make it possible to curb intake into English-taught tracks of degree programmes. He wanted to hear the vision of the Education Council in this matter.

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So now there’s a new recommendation, which comes down to this: think things over more carefully, because the consequences haven’t been properly investigated and the substantiation isn’t up to scratch. Also, other opportunities exist to reach the goals.

There’s actually only one thing in the bill that the Education Council truly approves of: limited enrolment for tracks taught in English (or other languages). This may be beneficial to Dutch students’ access to education, the Council believes.

The VVD party is also in favour of this and even submitted an amendment last month to already enshrine the measures relating to limited enrolment in law. Dijkgraaf didn’t want to do this yet. It needs to be done in conjunction with the rest, he believed, and he hasn’t submitted his bill yet.

Time pressure

The recommendation to take more time to think things over is bound to meet with scepticism in the House of Representatives. “The accuracy of legislation shouldn’t be affected by time pressure”, says chair of the Education Council Edith Hooge.

Politicians have been working on such a law for years. Can the cabinet already introduce some of it and take longer to think about the rest?

“We give advice and highlight the risks of this bill, but we don’t say anything about the pace at which the minister must proceed. We leave that to politics.”

At the same time, your recommendation says some things are in danger of going too fast. For example, Dijkgraaf wants to test the current English-taught programmes to see whether they’ve chosen the right language of instruction. If not, they have to switch to Dutch quickly.

“And that’s something we consider disproportionate. It would result in a lot of uncertainty, as no clear conditions are in place yet for programmes to deviate from Dutch as the language of instruction.”

Can’t the programmes start substantiating their choice of language already? This would give them more than nine months to work with.

“According to the bill, the institutions have to engage in self-direction, which they could start doing already. We also think they should do a better job justifying the language they teach in. But at the end of the day, this bill would give the minister the authority to grant or withhold permission for non-Dutch-taught education. That creates uncertainty, making nine months really far too short. Imagine doing something like this to a tech programme where half the teachers are from abroad. A quick switch to Dutch-taught education isn’t feasible in such a case. It also leads to legal uncertainty.”

The Council suggests different funding for Dutch-taught and English-taught programmes.

“You could, indeed, look into whether that’s a way to make the intake of international students manageable.”

Do you first need to have that complicated debate on funding before you can put this law through parliament?

“Current funding contains a stimulus for recruiting many international students. It would be good to look at this if you want institutions to act differently. The goal of the law and the chosen measures must align with one another.”

Is it strange for politicians to want to make language demands?

“Language proficiency is important, in all programmes. This also goes for the language proficiency of teachers and researchers, sometimes also in other languages than just English, for example French or German. It would also be good if international teachers and researchers spoke basic Dutch within a relatively short amount of time, so they can participate in society and become more involved in the communities of their higher education institutions.”

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The Education Council’s recommendation was published today. Minister Dijkgraaf has thanked the Council, but has not yet given a substantive response. He does hope higher education will get to work already. “I asked higher education institutions to see what can be done already, alongside and in anticipation of the bill.” This is also what he was asked to do by the House of Representatives.