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Dutch government to reduce funding for internationalisation

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
    • The Dutch government will reduce funding for Nuffic, the peak body for internationalisation of education in the country, beginning in 2021
    • The funding cuts will result in the closure of Nuffic field offices in strategically important source countries such as China, India, Vietnam, and South Korea
    • The plan occurs in a media and political context in the Netherlands where the rapid increase in international student numbers has been a subject of concern

In 2021, the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) will reduce the subsidy it provides to Nuffic, the government agency responsible for the internationalisation of education in the Netherlands.

Nuffic announced the ministry’s planned cuts in advance because of the “drastic” effect they will have on the Netherlands’ participation in international education partnerships, relationships with international alumni, and the ability of the country to recruit in key markets that are much coveted by competitor countries. Nuffic is now cooperating with the ministry in an effort to safeguard as much of the agency’s activity as possible.

Foreign offices will close

Specifically targeted for cuts are the Netherlands Education Support Offices (NESOs), which are a network of ten Nuffic field offices abroad. These offices – located in the key sending markets of Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Russia, China, South Africa, Turkey, South Korea, India, and Vietnam – are now slated for closure in 2021.

According to the Trouw online news service, “The 10 countries where the support offices are located sent nearly 14,000 students to Dutch colleges and universities in the last academic year. The Netherlands is particularly popular with Indian and Chinese students, followed by Indonesians, Vietnamese, and South Koreans.”

In addition, Nuffic says the ministry intends to stop funding the Holland Alumni Network, a collaborative initiative that connects and engages with international alumni of Dutch institutions.

Finally, the ministry is also reportedly considering internationalisation initiatives at primary, secondary, and vocational institutions in the Netherlands as potential areas for further cuts.

Effects will be “severe,” says Nuffic

Nuffic issued a statement explaining that the impact of these cuts on the Netherland’s international education initiatives will be substantial:

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

The statement continues by attesting that the cuts will threaten the Netherlands’ reputation as a knowledge economy:

“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.”

Growing international numbers

In 2018, 11.5% of the total student population in Dutch universities was composed of foreign students, up from 10.5% a year earlier.

Nuffic reports that there were 85,955 foreign students from 170 countries enrolled in degree programmes in public institutions in the Netherlands in the 2018/19 academic year. Nearly three in four foreign students in the Netherlands (73% or 62,932 students) came from European Economic Area (EEA) countries, with the balance coming from outside the EEA. The share of non-EEA students has increased over the last two years – rising from 25% in 2016/17 to 27% in 2018/19.

There is some speculation that the announced cuts to Nuffic’s subsidy relates to the growing international student population and its impact on domestic students, the ability of universities to accommodate an increasing foreign enrolment, the expansion of English-taught courses popular among international students, and already tight student accommodations.

According to Nuffic spokeswoman Anne Lutgerink, internationalisation has been criticised in the Dutch media and in some political circles for some time, with critics citing a concern that international students are taking up capacity and available seats in universities from Dutch students. Ms Lutgerink considers such concerns unsubstantiated.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven has commissioned a study to ascertain the value of internationalisation to the Dutch higher education system and will report the results of the study later this year.

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