According to a recent poll, Omtzigt would be able to secure 43 seats in the House of Representatives, although he himself doesn’t believe it will come this far. One thing is clear, however: his party may play an important role.
When it comes to higher education, he is mainly concerned about the anglicisation of degree programmes and the intake of international students. What may prove significant in the coming coalition negations, is that he has been far from alone in this.
Early this year, Omtzigt submitted a motion that was overwhelmingly approved. Of the major parties, only D66 voted against it. This motion was on Dutch as the main language of instruction.
“At some programmes in the Netherlands, only English is spoken, almost nobody who’s enrolled has Dutch roots and the teachers are often an international bunch as well”, Omtzigt said during the debate. “I’m not saying that this isn’t welcome as such, but we do have to ask ourselves if we wish to finance it from the state treasury.”
He believes too many students come here from abroad and he wants to go back to the situation “of about five years ago, when students were coming but not in these kinds of numbers”.
To that end, he would like to have fewer English-taught programmes and greater clarity on the legal grounds for exception regarding education in another language than Dutch.
The law dictates that education should in principle be in Dutch, but that guest lecturers can teach in English, for instance. Exceptions are also permitted when the ‘specific nature’ of a programme requires this. In practice, it turns out this latter ground for exception opens the gate wide for non-Dutch-taught education.
Omtzigt is very unhappy with this. His motion (tabled together with the parties SGP, SP, JA21 and PVV) advocates ‘clear standards’ on education in another language, to be enforced immediately. He was in a particular hurry when it came to the Bachelor’s phase.
He had submitted a more radical proposal before, where the government would have to make a plan with the universities to reinstate Dutch as the language of instruction in Bachelor’s programmes within four years. A maximum of twenty percent would be exempted from this requirement. This motion was rejected, however.
Taking charge of the intake
It was never the intention for so many degree programmes to be taught in another language, Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf (D66) admitted this past spring, but there’s not much he can do about it now. After all, the institutions are abiding by the current law. He does have a range of plans for taking greater charge of the intake of international students.
It remains to be seen whether these plans are drastic enough for the future coalition of parties, particularly if Nieuw Sociaal Contract is amongst them. “The measures are still a bit meagre”, Omtzigt said in an initial reaction. “There are 115,000 international students. Forty percent of the students enrolling at Dutch universities come from abroad. These are important and expensive places that are funded from Dutch tax revenue to give opportunities to Dutch young people.”
His aversion to the large intake of international students is also apparent from his criticism of the student financing system. International students are eligible for student financing if they have a side job taking up one to two days a week. He wonders why the Netherlands would have to pay for this group. What’s more, these students can also secretly apply for financing in their own country, as the Netherlands does not exchange information with neighbouring countries in order to run checks. It may lead to “an even higher influx” in higher education.
Sometimes Omtzigt got involved in other areas affecting students, education and academia. He is, for instance, an advocate of greater transparency when it comes to the funding of academic chairs. This is an issue with a long history, which could become topical once more with the rise of Omtzigt.
He also looked for a compromise when the Cabinet did not want to give an 800 euro energy allowance to students living away from home. He proposed to give them another sum of money, for instance 250 euros. This proposal was rejected.