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Dutch minister’s plans “must not be postponed” longer

The Dutch education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf’s plans for internationalisation of higher education in the Netherlands were fiercely debated, with some even calling for complete cessation of international scholarship funding.
June 19 2023
4 Min Read

The Dutch education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf’s plans for internationalisation of higher education in the Netherlands have been fiercely debated, with some even calling for complete cessation of international scholarship funding.

During a debate in the lower house of the Netherlands parliament on June 15, numerous members also called for a swift remodel of which languages university programs are taught in.

“The international student’s freedom of choice is the Dutch student’s limitation,” said Peter Kwint, MP for the Socialist Party.

Kwint went as far as to say that the timeline – which will see much of what the Dijkgraaf put in the letter will only take effect in 2025/26 – will “take far too long”, especially as the proposal was awaited for “months”.

Hatte van der Woude from the conservative liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy party, who in 2022 was a core advocate for stopping the recruitment of international students until the overcrowding issue could be solved, said she is glad that the recommendations are in place now.

“I ask the minister to stick to that. Postponing is no longer possible,” van der Woude insisted.

Independent MP Pieter Omtzigt also went as far to say that the scholarship system is also wired more towards internationals.

“We have saddled [domestic] students with tens of thousands of euros in debt for years.

“EU students who come to the Netherlands next academic year will receive numerous financial benefits if they come to study here. How on earth is the minister going to explain that?” the eurosceptic MP said.

“The international student’s freedom of choice is the Dutch student’s limitation”

Universities of the Netherlands, which submitted a response to Dijkgraaf’s letter for the debate to be given to those in parliament, argued that it has been advocating for the removal of certain “bottlenecks” in its internationalisation agenda since 2018.

“Universities identified the instruments we need from the public authorities. These instruments have been lacking to date, while it is important to preserve all the profits of years of joint commitment to internationalisation.

“Now that specific measures are being discussed, universities want to stress the importance of a nuanced package of measures with room for customisation, given their different profiles. This will set the course for the longer term,” the letter read.

During the debate Kwint directly addressed this, saying, “The institutions support the issue of internationalisation, but they each want an exceptional position based on their border location and type of study program.

“Everyone and their mother consider themselves an exception. You are an exception only if it has been decided by the ministry. There must be clarity about that,” Kwint stated.

“We are concerned about the possible stacking of measures, emergency buttons, implementation burdens and adjustment. Autonomy is an important factor in maintaining our top international position,” Universities of the Netherlands told The PIE News after the debate.

“Universities themselves want to take responsibility for solving the bottlenecks and the long-awaited legal steering instruments are certainly going to help,” a representative added.

Fred de Vries, who heads up internationalisation at the University of Twente, told The PIE that due to the Netherlands being the country it is, with the multiple borders it has, there will always be institutions that don’t get the good end of the bargain.

“In the biggest cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Utrecht – there are so many students at these universities, and they say ‘well, we want stricter measures’ – but in Maastricht, in Groningen, in Twente, people say ‘no, that doesn’t work’.

“There is no one size fits all approach, so we need this adaptability that’s very difficult to capture in the rules and laws,” de Vries relented.

MP for the centrist D66 party Jeanet van der Laan noted that the bottlenecks are still present, with “students attending lectures sitting on the ground due to crowds”, but that universities having more autonomy over it would be the solution.

“In some cities there is no room to be found – customisation and taking control is our starting point.

“I’m also hearing members say that all bachelors should be in Dutch, that’s just not possible,” said van der Laan.

Both Kwint and Omtzigt argued that at the very least, the primary language in universities should be Dutch.

Dikjgraaf himself said that there must be a legal obligation for what level of Dutch domestic students must achieve, but it will always be different for English taught courses.

“Dutch students must have good expressive skills – but it’s a different story for foreign students”

“Dutch students must have good expressive skills – but a different story applies for foreign students – you cannot expect the same from them.

“As far as I’m concerned, it will be a compulsory component to their studies, but outside the curriculum.”

The University of Twente, de Vries said, has solutions for just that, with its own language centre that students and staff can utilise at any time during their studies for a simple nominal fee.

“We make it very easy because we know it’s important. For us, it’s not something new,” de Vries added.

The language requirement, he said, plays into the issue of university autonomy heavily due to some universities being on the border with Germany and France.

“All universities will have to reassess what the profile of a program actually is; for whom are we doing it? And what’s in the curriculum? How strong is the international profile, and then, how logical is it to do it in English?” de Vries said.

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