Dijkgraaf (D66) believes that the drawbacks and benefits of internationalisation in higher education bear further consideration. He has therefore withdrawn the much-discussed Language & Accessibility bill, which was awaiting approval by the Senate.
The bill doesn’t just pertain to the influx of foreign students, but also to the position of the Dutch language in higher education. It stipulated that degree programmes should only be offered in English if there was a good reason to do so.
These topics are important to Dijkgraaf. “I am very committed to the preservation of Dutch as an academic language”, he says, while recognising as well that the growing student numbers are causing problems. But the internationalisation of higher education is also “of great value to the Dutch knowledge economy, education and science”, he adds. Faced with these conflicting interests, he wants to carefully consider the best approach.
“We are very disappointed that we now have to wait even longer”, says Ruben Puylaert, spokesperson for the umbrella organisation Universities of the Netherlands (UNL). While the universities were critical of the bill, they still crave more tools to control the influx of foreign students, saying they “really needed them yesterday”.
Governing party VVD is also critical of the delay and, according to a tweet from MP Hatte van der Woude, fears “years of postponement”. “We think that it’s unfair to leave unis in limbo like this. To be continued.”
Dijkgraaf is working on an administrative agreement with the higher education institutions, which will include a joint ‘Future Survey’. Only after this survey will he introduce a “comprehensive package of measures”, including “steering instruments” to help manage the influx.
One of the problems surrounding the large numbers of international enrolments is the accessibility of degree programmes with a limited number of spots. Some political parties find it difficult to stomach that Dutch students are sometimes pushed aside by internationals.
The Language & Accessibility bill gave degree programmes the option of offering two tracks: an English-language track with an enrolment cap and a Dutch-language track with no intake restrictions. This would have offered relief for some programmes. “But the bill does not offer a macro-level approach, which might prove necessary”, Dijkgraaf says.
On the other hand, he also sees the necessity of “taking some short-term measures”, if only because of the housing shortage. Moreover, some degree programmes are nearing their limits. Dijkgraaf therefore wants to make “concrete agreements”, although it remains unclear what kind of agreements he has in mind.
More legal options
The universities have been asking for more legal options for years. For instance, they want to be able to impose an emergency enrolment cap if a programme suddenly attracts a lot of foreign students, and they want to be able to set a maximum for students from outside Europe.