Minister wants more influence on internationalisation

Education Minister Dijkgraaf plans to use a combination of laws and agreements to manage the influx of foreign students, he said last Tuesday in the House of Representatives. He also wants to spend more time at the controls himself.

photo Genkur / iStock

On Tuesday evening, the House of Representatives discussed the large cohort of international students enrolled at Dutch universities, and specifically the question of how to limit further growth. All parties have their own ideas on the topic.

For Minister Dijkgraaf, the debate came a little too early, as he had already started writing a letter on internationalisation. However, he added that he would use this opportunity to finetune his plans. As a result he had decided to take a break from writing. Originally, he had planned to complete the letter by February, but this will now likely be mid-March.

And yet he already had a lot to say on the topic, and was able to provide both a broad outline and some of his dilemmas. For him, the main question is “should there be a more centralised control?”

Emergency brakes

Because clearly, rules and laws are needed for ensuring capacity control at degree programme level. Everyone can agree on that, according to the Minister. Dijkgraaf plans to introduce rules for programmes that have both a Dutch and a foreign-language track. These programmes will soon be permitted to set a fixed student number quota (numerus fixus) for only the foreign-language track. This way, programmes can remain accessible for Dutch students, while keeping control over the enrolment of foreign students. He also plans to introduce an emergency brake system for programmes suddenly inundated with applications from outside of Europe.

But how do you ensure admissions are managed well? Because, Peter Kwint (SP) warned, before you know it, all programmes and institutions will consider themselves exceptions and they will all keep doing their own thing and nothing much will change.

Dijkgraaf agreed. This is why he is considering more centralised control. “Who will be in charge of how the exceptions are made, and how the controls are set?”, he asked the MPs. “It is of course totally understandable and valid that institutions are mainly focused on their own unique position in this matter, but we are currently discussing the sustainability of the system and not the sustainability of individual programmes or institutions.”

Pros and cons

After all, there are pros and cons to internationalisation, says Dijkgraaf. “Simply put, the focus of our strategy should be to increase the pros and limit the cons as much as possible.” His reasons for limiting the influx of foreign students include job market shortages, and he aims to pay special attention to contracting regions. “And aside from that, and this is very important and I fully support this: the notion that the Dutch language should remain a language of education and science.”

The MPs had already shared their positions on internationalisation at that time. Harm Beertema (PVV) repeated his plea to teach Bachelor’s degree programmes in Dutch again, “with a few well-chosen exceptions, and with the explicit statement that foreign students will still be welcome then”. Comparable statements were made by SP, CDA, SGP, JA21 and Pieter Omtzigt.

Opposing arguments were made by D66. “It should come as no surprise that D66 views internationalisation as an opportunity”, voiced MP and former top football player Janet van der Laan. “Dutch science is performing very well. In football terms, we are playing in the Champions League. I would like to see us remain at the top on the international stage. We are not an island.”

But D66 admits there are bottlenecks, such as student housing. Van der Laan also mentioned the funding of universities: “I hate to say it, but international students also bring in money. That is an uncomfortable incentive. It should not be all about the money.”


Minister Dijkgraaf took everything seriously and promised to go into these topics in more detail in the future. “And, as many of you have voiced here today, it is also very important to carefully consider the incentives in terms of the funding”, he acknowledged. But he also warned that “every incentive begins with the best intentions, but will ultimately become a perverse incentive”.

Plus, you will always have different perspectives. “Today we are looking at funding through the lens of international students, but maybe we will look at the same funding through the lens of contraction in the region or connections to the labour market some other day”, he said. “There are multiple perspectives that simply need to come together.”

Legal amendments in support of policy? Those may be introduced, but further down the line. Dijkgraaf is considering using the legislative proposal ‘Language and Accessibility’, that he had previously put on hold, as an intermediate step. This proposal allows degree programmes to set a fixed student number quota for non-Dutch tracks. One of the problems is that the legislative proposal states that the enrolment restrictions should be a temporary measure.


The Minister will continue to try and put the pieces together. As stated before, he will share his views on internationalisation in March, followed by a ‘foresight study’ before the summer, which will also include information about funding. We will have to wait until after the summer for his policy response to this foresight study.

Share this article