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MPs call for a curb on international students, more focus on Dutch

The University of Twente is bilingual. Photo:

International students may be important to the education system and economy, but the balance has been ‘distorted’ by the shortage of housing, overfull lecture theatres and the amount of additional help they need, education minister Robbert Dijkraaf said on Tuesday.

MPs were debating the need to limit international student numbers, following calls for action from universities in the bigger Dutch cities. Foreign students account for 40% of first years in the current academic year.

In particular, MPs are concerned about the shift towards English language teaching and the impact this is having on standards of Dutch.  ‘We are in favor of targeted internationalisation but not uncontrolled internationalisation,’ VVD MP Hatte van der Woude said.

Independent MP Pieter Omtzigt said that the Netherlands is educating ‘the middle class of Bulgaria, Romania and Italy’, and criticised the lack of Dutch skills among lecturers.

‘Is this what we should be financing?’ he said, pointing out that in law, Dutch as the language of instruction may only be deviated from in exceptional cases. ‘This not being enforced,’ he said.


Dijkgraaf has already urged universities to stop recruiting abroad, and they have largely done this, the minister said in answer to MPs’ questions.

Next week, MPs will vote on a string of motions calling for a reduction in international student numbers and more emphasis on the Dutch language. Dijkgraaf will publish his own detailed plans to tackle the situation in March.

The minister said earlier the measures will include ‘language and the possible introduction of fixed numbers’ for non-Dutch courses’, Dijkgraaf said. ‘The availability of higher education for Dutch students is, and will remain, an important principle,’ he said.

This summer, a number of universities called on foreign students not to come unless they had organised accommodation in advance.