Universities in particular have for years yearned for a control on the influx of international students that they can apply entirely at their own discretion. This limit on student numbers (capaciteitsfixus) for specific courses only applies to English-taught programmes, leaving Dutch students unaffected by the measure. A legislative amendment by the VVD has delivered the outcome they hoped for.


There was nothing controversial as regards the details of the bill. It was already passed a few years ago by the House of Representatives, before being withdrawn from consideration in the Senate by the freshly sworn-in Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf. He first wanted to make improvements to the bill, but that is taking longer than hoped. He now intends to send his own bill to the House of Representatives in a few months’ time. The question is whether it will be passed there now that a key part has already been accepted.

What happened exactly? In January, VVD spokesperson Claire Martens-America proposed a legislative amendment. Given the large influx of internationals, she felt that the passage of the bill was taking too long. She wanted to incorporate the limit on student numbers for specific courses – the capaciteitsfixus – from Dijkgraaf’s bill into the Higher Education and Research Act (WHW) at the earliest opportunity.

But her proposal met with a constitutional objection: a legislative amendment must concern the law being debated by the House of Representatives at that time. Which was the budget of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and not, therefore, the Higher Education and Research Act nor Dijkgraaf’s bill.


Dijkgraaf advised against the proposal. Because of the rules in place, he explained, but also because his own bill contains a broader package of measures. One of which is the additional requirement for higher education to invest in the Dutch language skills of students and staff. Universities see this as an attack on their autonomy.

D66 party leader Jan Paternotte warned that the VVD amendment would create a ‘constitutional mess’. “With this action, we are circumventing the recommendation of the Council of State. We have not been able to debate the proposal properly. And we are putting pressure on the Senate with it. If the Senate opposes this amendment, it must at the same time vote down the entire budget of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of 57 billion euros.”

It is indeed by no means certain whether the Senate will accept this unusual course of action in the House of Representatives. If the law is passed, universities can at least breathe a sigh of relief. In an initial reaction, university association UNL (Universities of the Netherlands) says that the adopted amendment is ‘a key element in our plans to work toward internationalisation in equilibrium’.

A fortnight ago, UNL proposed that universities would themselves take their own measures to reduce the influx of international students, although that would require a student quota for English-taught Bachelor’s programmes to be written into law. The chances of them getting their way have increased considerably.

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