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Dutch government asks universities to suspend active international recruitment amid capacity concerns

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • A government proposal is in the works for rules that could limit Dutch universities ability to recruit international students
  • For now, Culture and Science Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has asked universities to voluntarily stop active recruiting pending further government direction
  • Insufficient housing and packed lecture halls are the main reason for the request
  • The university community is advocating for self-regulation on the issue, and has publicly shared strategies to address overcrowding

Indications that the Netherlands government was looking to clamp down on Dutch universities’ recruitment of international students have been evident for some time. It now appears that 2023 will be the year in which the government pushes for official rules limiting the influx of international students – a move that will not be popular among many in the university community.

Culture and Science Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has asked universities of applied sciences and research in the country to stop recruiting international students, with limited exceptions.

Capacity issues at the heart of the issue

Minister Dijkgraaf does not deny that there are benefits to internationalisation, but points to capacity issues – teacher overload and insufficient student housing – as the reason for his request.

In 2021/22, enrolments in Dutch universities grew by 4%, and much of the increase was attributable to international students. That academic year, international students made up 23% of the total student population (29% at the undergraduate level), and about 40% of the students beginning their first year of study. Most of these students (roughly 75%) are from the European Union, with Germany the main sender.

But to host international students responsibly is to acknowledge that these students need somewhere to live while they study. Geert ten Dam, president of the University of Amsterdam, told Times Higher Education that,

“In concrete terms, our campuses are bursting at the seams. There are too few lecture halls for teaching. There is also a large and increasing housing shortage in Amsterdam.”

In 2022, hundreds of international students could not secure accommodation, and many could not find emergency housing as a backup.

Some exceptions

Minister Dijkgraaf told Dutch universities that international student recruitment should now be very limited. Incoming students should be enrolled in “specific training for professions where there is a shortage and in regions where populations are declining.”

For now, a request – later, policy?

The minister asked universities for now to voluntarily cease their recruitment of most international students. In February, the minister will present a formal proposal to limit the number of students coming into the Netherlands. Members of parliament are asking that the minister speed up the submission of his strategy given what they consider to be the urgency of the situation.

After Minister Dijkgraaf’s proposal goes to parliament for debate, new rules could come into effect as early as March.

Housing is in the works

The gravity of the student housing crisis has spurred an effort to quickly build more accommodation. The government-launched National Student Housing Action Plan has a target of building 60,000 affordable student residences between 2022 and 2030, and 37,500 “flexible homes” by 2024.

Some universities are pushing back

Some Dutch universities are opposed to any kind of legislation binding them to strict quotas on international student numbers. Some have noted that they have, without government pressure, advocated for a more careful approach to recruitment, such as “an introduction of quotas on English tracks in degree programmes and limits on the proportion of international students in individual programmes.”

Some also argue that the call for a pause on active international recruitment ignores the substantial upsides of a robust international presence in the country. The spokesperson for the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, Ruben Puylaert told University World News that,

“Internationalisation highly contributes to the quality of our higher education and research. In addition, internationalisation is very valuable for the Netherlands. It provides highly educated talent in demand on the labour market, especially in certain sectors and regions.”

Jan Willem Besselaar, director of marketing, communication and student community at Breda University of Applied Sciences, told University World News: “We think having an international, intercultural classroom is a very important basis of our educational vision. Students need it and the labour market and industry need it.”

Rather than limiting international student numbers, Mr Beseelaar said, the government should focus on increasing funding to alleviate the real crisis: insufficient housing not just for international students, but in general and for refugees from Ukraine especially.

At least 80,000 international students

Mr Puylaart says that in 2022, there were close to 80,000 international students in the Netherlands, but Statistics Netherlands says the number is much higher: 115,000 in the 2021/22 academic year.

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