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Dutch internationalisation review seeks to manage inbound numbers

An ability to limit numbers on non-Dutch language courses and higher fees for non-EEA students were some of the key proposals contained in a review of higher education internationalisation released by the Dutch government.

Measures to control inbound numbers when they exceed the capacity of a program of university are welcome, according to VSNU. Photo: djedj

The Netherlands is still behind competitor destinations such as the UK, Australia, Canada for int'l student numbers

VSNU, the Association of Dutch Universities was broadly positive towards measures to ensure flows are managed, recognising a need to safeguard education quality and limit the pressure on accessibility and services, which has sometimes made headlines over the past few years.

Room for customisation and a focus on outbound mobility was also welcomed by Nuffic, the internationalisation agency. However, both stakeholders had some reservation.

“If you want to control the influx of foreign students… you shouldn’t be trying to do that via the language”

VSNU told The PIE News that a key missing point in the package was the ability for universities to limit the number of non-EU students, not generally, but on particular courses or programs.

Nuffic, on the other hand, lamented the possible demise of its offices abroad, part of a package of cuts first announced earlier this year.

VSNU spokesperson Bart Pierik told The PIE that while the sector is aware of the role that internationalisation plays in its global success, it is important to protect the quality of education and research.

“For us, the challenge is to protect what is good, positive and important about internationalisation within Dutch higher education and research by having the right tools to control the flow when it exceeds the possibilities of a particular university or program,” he said.

In particular, he added, the proposal to allow universities to limit the student number on the English track of a particular program while keeping its Dutch version open was “very welcome” as it will allow HEIs to keep attracting international talent but also keep the program open to Dutch students.

In line with this measure, the proposals also plan to require universities to invest in Dutch language support for international students, although no compulsory courses will be introduced, according to Dutchnews.nl.

But the ability to limit the number of non-EU students on specific courses or programs is something the association is “very impatient about” he explained, as certain courses are oversubscribed and this negatively affects the availability of services at the university.

“Now the only tool we have is instating a capacity limit on a whole program, which also affects the accessibility of Dutch students, and for that reason, it’s quite unpopular,” he explained.

“If you want to control the influx of foreign students you should be able to control it and you shouldn’t be trying to do that via the language.”

Commenting on the words of the minister Ingrid van Engelshoven who according to Dutchnews.nl said that internationalisation “shouldn’t be allowed to go too far,” Han Dommers, member of the Nuffic board, responsible for student mobility and talent retention, told The PIE that internationalisation shouldn’t be an end in itself.

“It is important to keep in mind that internationalisation, including study programs and courses taught in English, must always contribute to the quality of education and is not an end in itself,” he explained.

“Regardless of the choice of language that is used in a study program, attention to language proficiency of both teachers and students is essential.”

Nuffic, Dommers continued, can contribute to helping with plans to set up a research agenda on internationalisation.

“The minister indicated that she is planning to set up a research agenda.

“As a knowledge centre with many years of experience and expertise in the field of internationalisation in all sectors, we can contribute to increasing knowledge of the most effective ways of internationalising education.”

In the letter accompanying the interdepartmental policy review, the minister confirmed she is working on reviewing funding for Nuffic and cutting funds for its offices abroad, as announced in July, Dommers said.

He added that the Nuffic offices abroad had been very successful in positioning Dutch HE and vocational education abroad, and building networks in their country.

“Internationalisation… must always contribute to the quality of education”

“It is too early to comment on how it will affect operations at Nuffic and our staff, both in the countries where the Neso offices are located, as well as for our headquarters in The Hague,” he said.

Although the growth of international students in the Netherlands has been impressive, their average proportion of 11% is still behind competitor destinations such as the UK, Australia, Canada, but also Switzerland and Austria, Joran van Aart, Studyportals’ COO, told The PIE.

And competition is increasing in other parts of Europe as well.

“The Netherlands has been a front-runner in continental Europe in terms of offering first their master’s and later also Bachelors in English.

“However, other countries are following suit,” he said.

“Also the Netherlands has higher tuition fees than some of their neighbouring countries, in particular for non-EU students.”

Plans to increase fees for non-EU students and limit numbers on English-taught programs were criticised by van Aart.

“Unemployment is very low and there are significant talent and skill shortages limiting the growth of the Dutch economy,” he added.

Another recent report released by a government think-tank on the economic impact of international students in the Netherlands, found non-EU students are much higher contributors as they pay much higher fees and continue to work in the Netherlands in higher numbers than their EU peers.

All international students contribute more than what they cost, the report found, with EU students generating from €5,000 to €17,000 and non-EU from €69,000 to €94,000 in net contribution.

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