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“Big impact” on view of international students as right wins Dutch election

The result of the Dutch election has seen stakeholders voice fears that access to Dutch education will be “limited” for foreign students.

The Dutch people voted in a parliamentary election on November 22nd. Photo: iStock

It was what some universities and international education experts had feared

The Dutch Freedom Party, or PVV, gained the most seats in the parliament, with the right-leaning NSC also making gains spelling disaster for the country’s parties further to the left.

It was what some universities and international education experts had feared, considering both NSC and PVV’s frequent and vocal calls to limit immigration.

“Both the PVV and their coalition partners have made clear in the past that Dutch people and Dutch students would be their priority,” Gerrit Bruno Blöss, founder of, told The PIE News.

“My fear, and that of many others, is that instead of finding constructive solutions to the housing crisis, they will rather limit access to Dutch education, thereby also hurting the Dutch economy in the long run,” he continued.

Stemming from that housing crisis that affected the entire country, calls to curb the number of non-EU students coming into the country has become louder in recent years.

Robbert Dijkgraaf, then minister of education, asked for a halt on international student recruitment at the end of 2022.

Throughout 2023, a proposed bill has been debated and tabled focused on internationalisation in higher education – calling for the Dutch language to be the “main language of instruction” for all students, both domestic and international – an issue that has caused much concern across institutions.

Nannette Ripmeester, European director at i-graduate and hailing from the Netherlands, said she was “shocked to the bone” at the result.

“[It] will have a big impact on how internationalisation and international students will be seen.

“The emphasis will be on the Dutch language in academic teaching – and also in science, although I personally doubt how achievable this will turn out to be,” Ripmeester told The PIE.

Also winning a good share of the votes is the NSC party, run by Pieter Omtzigt, a figure who has polarised the debate on internationalisation in the Netherlands by calling for more stringent immigration rules on students.

“This will likely create additional support in parliament to reduce the flows of international students. A lot of emphasis has gone to the capacity problems, in particular in accommodation as the reason,” said Edwin van Rest, co-founder of Dutch-based education search site Studyportals, speaking with The PIE.

“The sector has not been sufficiently able to explain the positive impact international students have on our society and economy, government finances, labour shortages, classroom quality, future competitiveness, and our soft power in the world.

“It’s a lesson for many countries to learn from.”

While a coalition has yet to be formed – meaning, van Rest said, “we won’t see changes overnight” – they may well be coming, and will likely not be good for the sector.

“The higher education sector still believes in the same values and remains welcoming to international students and researchers.

“We feel for our students and immigrants that might feel less welcome now, we hope they are comforted by the fact that ‘only’ 24% of the votes were cast for PVV party – the far majority of the Dutch voters do value immigrants,” van Rest noted.

Nuffic, the country’s education internationalisation outfit, has already seen funding cuts, and Dijkgraaf’s request to halt international recruitment did not go down well with universities.

Any further measures, Blöss said, could cause real blows to the international population at institutions.

“The sector has not been sufficiently able to explain the positive impact international students have”

“Any such measures would likely drive applicants to surrounding countries. For non-EU students, the next choice might be the UK, where tuition fees are at a similar level,” he noted.

In October at the EAIE conference, the president of Breda University of Applied Sciences pointed out in an interview with The PIE that eventually, more measures against internationalisation could adversely affect the labour market.

“What’s the connection with the labour market [in this debate]? There’s shortages in every sector,” he said.

In August, it was reported that four in 10 Dutch forms were calling staff shortages a “serious” issue – and considering that a third of international graduates in the Netherlands stay to work, it is a solution that could be positively impacted by more international graduates.

“I think Dutch society will have to adapt to a new reality, but my hopes are that we understand in the months and years to come what value diversity and internationalisation bring an open society such as the Netherlands,” Ripmeester added.

“[The result] a rare setback for internationalisation in the Netherlands – but we are confident the tide will turn again in the future, as the underlying demographic developments and trends will require attraction of talent and internationally prepared graduates,” van Rest concluded.

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