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Nuffic warns funding cuts could threaten internationalisation

A major setback for internationalisation in the Netherlands could be afoot as the ministry of education, science and culture has announced plans to cut Nuffic’s budget from 2021, according to the agency.

If confirmed, the decision will cause Nuffic to scale back on its activity “drastically”. Photo:Skitterphoto/ Pexels

The outcome of the interdepartmental policy review of internationalisation is expected in early September

If confirmed, the decision will cause Nuffic to scale back on its activity “drastically”, an outcome the Dutch agency for education internationalisation said would be “deeply regrettable”.

At risk are the Netherlands Education Support Offices – the Nuffic offices abroad – which have facilitated international education cooperation between the Netherlands and the countries in which they operate, and supported international student recruitment.

“These NESOs serve as offices for of Dutch knowledge diplomacy… and have proved their value more than once”

According to Nuffic, the ministry also intends to stop funding the Holland Alumni Network, a state-funded system to connect all international alumni of Dutch institutions.

Another area that may face cuts will be that of internationalisation activities at primary, secondary and vocational institutions, an approach which clashes with last year’s letter by minister Engelshoven in which VET internationalisation was an area of focus.

The ministry, Nuffic explained, is yet to confirm whether and in which format these activities will continue to exist.

“Taken together, these developments will severely affect the activities through which we support educational institutions in developing as well as strengthening high-quality internationalisation efforts, from primary and secondary education to vocational and higher education,” Nuffic said in a statement.

“Internationally speaking, the Netherlands has always held a leading position with regard to education. The proposed decision to reduce subsidies to the NESOs will have repercussions for the Dutch reputation as an internationally-oriented knowledge economy.

“These NESOs serve as offices for Dutch knowledge diplomacy in the countries where they are located and have proved their value more than once.”

The agency is also dealing with what the cuts will mean for its employees. Nuffic declined to comment further at this stage.

“At this point, too much is still uncertain and we are also awaiting the outcome of the interdepartmental policy review of internationalisation, which is expected sometime in early September,” a spokesperson told The PIE.

However, Nuffic director Freddy Weima told Science Guide that the consequences of the budget cuts for Nuffic personnel will be “serious”.

Nuffic is now cooperating with the Ministry of Education, which it said is planning to safeguard some of the agency’s task by embedding them in legislation: for example, credential evaluation and management of scholarship and grant programs.

Internationalisation efforts will also continue through other programs, which the agency manages on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – such as the Orange Knowledge Programme – and through funding from the European Commission.

Internationalisation of education in the Netherlands has been a hotly debated topic over the past few years, especially in regards to language policy, accessibility and student services, with accommodation shortages making the news.

“Part of the sentiment behind this is a trend many Western countries are observing in their electorate,” Studyportals COO Joran van Aart told The PIE.

“In the Netherlands, in particular, there has been discussion around universities rapidly offering their Bachelors programs in English, at very affordable tuition, where the rest of continental Europe is still teaching in local language for this segment.

“This resulted in oversubscribed courses in a few disciplines.”

For van Aart, the decision will impact on the country’s ability to maintain a leading position in the international education stage.

“It’s a loss for the Netherlands’ ability to compete in the global race for talent, which is pretty important for a small country with an advanced knowledge economy and currently many leading universities,” he said.

“It’s a loss for the Netherlands’ ability to compete in the global race for talent”

“We particularly sympathise with all those students that EP Nuffic served every year, who will be less aware of their international education options and will have less support to consider the Netherlands.”

The Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU) also declined to comment at this stage, awaiting further clarification from the ministry.

The ministry has been contacted for comment.

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