Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
14th Feb 2024

Dutch universities detail plan to reduce international enrolment

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • In response to growing government pressure, the peak body for Dutch higher education has released a plan to reduce international enrolment in the country
  • The plan will restrict the further expansion of English-taught degree programmes, establish a cap on foreign enrolment, wind down foundation year programmes, and restrict Dutch institutions’ international recruiting activities

The Dutch government spent most of last year signalling its concern about the rapid growth of international student numbers in the country. Most recently, the Dutch House of Representatives called on government and the higher education sector to put forward "concrete measures" to reduce the number of English-taught programmes in Dutch higher education. That followed a December 2023 request from Minister of Education Robbert Dijkgraaf for a proposal from peak body Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) outlining an approach for "self-management and control" of foreign student numbers.

The clear inference from these developments is that Dutch higher education institutions have come under increasing pressure to manage international student numbers downward. More to the point, Dutch institutions were obliged to put forward their own plan if they did not want the government to step in and introduce its own legislative measures.

This shifting political climate provides the context for a plan released by UNL on 8 February 2024. An accompanying statement declares: "With immediate effect, the Dutch universities will be taking their own measures to manage the influx of international students and improve Dutch language skills. They are committed to reducing the intake of international students, reducing the percentage of English-taught Bachelor’s programmes, increasing the number of Dutch-language degree programmes and strengthening the Dutch language proficiency of both lecturers and students."

The intake of foreign students will be reduced

The latest figures from UNL indicate that international student numbers have been stable over the past two years, and even dipped marginally in the current academic year.

UNL will now move to extend that trend through the introduction of an enrolment cap, explaining that, "This is an important control instrument, as universities will fix the enrolment quota at a number that is lower than the average intake of the past few years."

Alongside the cap, the UNL plan outlines that Dutch universities will no longer "actively recruit at large international fairs, to reduce the intake of international students."

Dutch-taught degrees will be strengthened; no new English-language degrees will be added

The plan states: "English is the lingua franca in academia and is therefore an integral part of daily practice in universities. However, universities are also part of Dutch society. Students are being prepared for their role in this society, and universities want to use their knowledge to foster a better Netherlands." UNL adds that, "70% of Bachelor's programmes are taught in Dutch, and 18% of those degree programmes also have an English version. The total percentage of English-language Bachelor's programmes is 30%." In short, the plan establishes that:

  • All major degree programmes will be available in Dutch;
  • New Dutch-taught degrees will be established;
  • No new English-language Bachelor degrees will be introduced.

Dutch universities that offer a preparatory or foundation year programme for foreign students will now also wind those programmes down. "By no longer offering a preparatory year," says UNL, "fewer prospective students will be eligible for a Dutch Bachelor's university education, limiting the intake of international students."

Universities will take steps to increase the stay rate of foreign graduates and improve housing

UNL says that, "Currently, about a third of international students remain in the Netherlands after their studies…Universities will actively work to increase the stayrate of students after their studies."

Finally, the plan calls out the importance of the National Action Plan for Student Accommodation as a mechanism to ease the current shortage of housing stock for both international and domestic students.

For additional background, please see:

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