On Thursday, the universities’ representative body UNL presented a series of measures designed to reduce the number of foreign students. The key measure is that all ‘large-scale’ Bachelor’s programmes will have a Dutch-language variant, allowing universities to limit the student intake for the English-taught equivalent.

Rosanne Hertzberger, higher education spokesperson for NSC in the House of Representatives, welcomes the proposals. “This is my preferred option”, she says, pleased that the universities have launched their own initiative to limit foreign intake and roll back the influence of English. She believes the universities are best placed to oversee the consequences of their actions for the sector.

Along with VVD and BBB, NSC had been calling for the rapid introduction of plans to reduce the number of programmes taught in English. The party accused universities of allowing internationalisation to spiral out of control and treating international students as a revenue model. That said, Hertzberger still has faith in the universities’ ability to correct matters. “I think it’s very important that they are now taking their own steps. This is a real turnaround.”

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What about Master’s programmes?

However, Hertzberger goes on to voice her concern about Master’s programmes. Why haven’t the universities proposed measures at that level? “Almost 80 percent of Master’s programmes are taught in English. That’s far too many.”

NSC is not alone in this position. A broad majority in the House of Representatives is in favour of reining in internationalisation. It is a policy that election winners PVV have been advocating for years.

Students are also responding positively to the universities’ new direction. Student organisation ISO welcomes these ‘promising plans that take us in the right direction’. Its members hope that universities will act quickly to put an end to “overcrowded lecture theatres” and the shortage in student accommodation.

Going too far

Even D66, a traditional defender of internationalisation in higher education, sees the moves in a positive light. Jan Paternotte says, “It’s about striking a balance in internationalisation, and that’s what the universities’ plans are doing.” He is more concerned about the intentions of his counterparts in other political parties. “My worry is that the push back on internationalisation is going much too far.”

Paternotte points to the plans of the parties currently in talks to form a new coalition government, including the NSC. They want to make it compulsory to teach all Bachelor’s programmes in Dutch, with only a possible exception for universities of technology. “But if the job market demands it, surely a maritime course, a hotel school or an international business programme should have the option to teach in English?”

Hertzberger, on the other hand, insists that firm action is needed. If not, then universities will stick with the status quo. “Of course there has to be a considered balance where internationalisation is concerned. But the universities have shown that serious social and political pressure needs to be applied before changes in this area are made.”

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Language of tuition

In the debate on internationalisation, language of tuition is likely to be the hottest topic in the near future. If only because politicians have few other means at their disposal to discourage international students from coming to the Netherlands. Three quarters of international students are European and enjoy the same rights as Dutch students. If the House of Representatives votes to make Dutch tuition mandatory, interest among students from abroad is bound to drop considerably.

That’s the last thing the universities want. They would much prefer to control internationalisation on their own terms: by limiting student numbers for specific programmes, for example. A cap on student intake can be applied to the English-taught variant only, without affecting Dutch-speaking students, thus enabling universities to let in precisely the number of international students they want.

The only trouble is that this option is not currently available to them under Dutch law. Outgoing education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has included it in his upcoming bill on internationalisation, but that is not due to come before the House of Representatives for a few months yet.

VVD is keen to fast-track this section of the bill and tabled an amendment in January, which will be voted on soon. The question is whether there is a majority for the measure at this stage.

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