The letter, dated December 22 2022 and signed by Robbert Dijkgraaf, comes weeks after a parliamentary motion, spearheaded by MPs Peter Kwint and Harry van der Molen, was passed which called on Dijkgraaf to limit international student recruitment efforts.
The letter, discussing the “termination of active recruitment of international students”, highlighted the importance of international students but cited pressure on teaching staff, facilities and accommodation shortages as overwhelming reasons for the request.
“In addition, in the long term it could threaten the continuity, affordability and quality of the Dutch higher education system,” Dijkgraaf said.
Dijkgraaf urged institutions to follow a framework which includes “a complete halt” to international student recruitment activities, with the exception of highly limited and targeted recruitment for specific programs focusing on regional sector shortages in healthcare, science and education.
Institutions are further expected to facilitate such students to postgraduate employment in sectors which are experiencing shortages.
Peter Birdsall, president and chair of executive, Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences, said that “the letter shows that the minister is under great pressure from various sections of the parliament to act, even though we are quite convinced he understands the importance of international students for Dutch higher education and the economy.”
In November 2022, Dijkgraaf spoke to The PIE about the benefits and value of international collaboration.
“I feel the exchanges of students and researchers actually typically bring countries closer together,” said Dijkgraaf.
Many stakeholders have already opposed the parliamentary motion, including a group of university chairs whose letter was published in the daily newspaper NCR.
Wittenborg in Apeldoorn is the latest institution to argue against the move to cease recruitment of international students, in a letter addressed to Dijkgraaf, obtained by The PIE.
The business school, which represents around 1,200 students from approximately 100 countries and operates entirely in English, argued that it should be able to operate as normal since, as a privately funded school, it is not using public funds and is able to invest and develop its own student accommodation in the city.
“As is ethical, we guarantee all new arriving students places to sleep and comfortable rooms. We do not have a problem housing our 300-400 new students every year,” the letter from the university stated.
“We do not have a problem housing our 300-400 new students every year”
Shortly before the 2022 academic year began, certain universities in the Netherlands warned international students with offers not to travel to the country unless they had already secured accommodation, due to housing shortages.
Wittenborg also highlighted the value of internationalism for the Netherlands in opposition to the motion, stating that cutting back on international students “sends the wrong signal”.
“Anti-internationalism goes completely against ‘our’ Dutch liberalism and is completely unnatural to the Netherlands,” the letter continued.
“It is our belief that internationalisation of higher education is also critically essential to the well-being of this country, without being at the front of top higher education in the world, the Netherlands would surely not be as successful today as it is,”
“This means that the Netherlands must remain fully participating within the international academic and research communities, and means that international students and academics play an important role in this.
“International higher education and the international students studying here are part of a healthy, holistic, liberal-thinking, developed society. Without it we will be a poorer country both in materialistic and non-materialistic terms.”
In the letter, the university made a number of suggestions, including the implementation of an obligation that higher education institutions ensure housing is available for non-EU students before admitting them.
“We would like to point out that our motto is ‘if you can’t house them, then don’t recruit them’,” it said.
It also suggested that a clear distinction be made between taxpayer-funded EU students and the much smaller group of fee-paying non-EU students.
“We feel that if the communication were changed regarding the categorisation of these groups, the discussion could be better focused on the actual problem, which is one also faced by other EU countries, especially those bordering Germany.”