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Universities to have more control over intake of international students

Universities welcome legislation that enables them to control the intake of international students more effectively at degree programme level.


Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Robbert Dijkgraaf, has today submitted the Letter to Parliament on Internationalisation in Higher Education to the House of Representatives. In this letter he sets out a number of actions that are designed to enable more effective regulation of the intake of international students. The Minister will set to work immediately on a bill that will give universities legal powers to control the intake of international students more effectively at degree programme level from academic year 2025-2026 onwards. In addition, the Minister and the universities will discuss agreements around, for example, stayrates, command of the Dutch language and provision of information to international students, on accommodation, for example. The Minister will also announce legislation on the provision of education in other languages. Pieter Duisenberg, President of Universities of the Netherlands (UNL): “International talent is crucial for the Netherlands. Both for the quality of education and research at our universities, and for the labour market. In some degree programmes, however, the growth in the number of students is too significant or too fast to enable high-quality education and manageable workloads to be maintained. Since 2018, therefore, we have been calling for mechanisms that will enable us to remedy this situation. We are pleased that the Minister is now making this tailor-made approach possible.” 


The international dimension of higher education is of major importance to Dutch society as a whole. It helps us engage more closely with global developments in science and helps in part to meet the labour market’s demand for more university-educated talent. In addition, internationalisation makes for a stimulating study environment in which Dutch and international students can learn from each other in an ‘international classroom’. Dutch universities therefore welcome international students and scientists and teach their courses in both Dutch and English. This is also important in the context of the ambitious European plans and developments in the field of higher education and science, such as the European Universities.

At the same time, in a number of universities and university cities, the growing influx of international students is causing problems. If we are to retain the added value of internationalisation and ensure that the quality and accessibility of higher education remains high, we must find solutions to these problems. UNL therefore welcomes Minister Dijkgraaf’s intention to give degree programmes the option, where they deem it necessary, to control the number of international students in a targeted way. Universities will be able:

  • to set an enrolment quota (numerus fixus) for a specific track within a degree programme (so the intake in the track that is taught in English is managed, while the track that is taught in Dutch remains unrestricted);
  • to define a maximum number of non-EEA students for each degree programme;
  • to set an emergency enrolment quota (noodfixus) if, during the application procedure, it is found that the number of applications from non-EEA countries is growing so fast that the degree programme could run into problems.


Several universities have already indicated that a number of their degree programmes would be interested in using these tools to enable them to manage student numbers more effectively. Examples include political science and psychology at the University of Amsterdam for a restriction on the number of students on a track that is taught in English, and Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology for a maximum number of non-EEA students.


Minister Dijkgraaf is keen to consult with research universities and universities of applied sciences over the finer details of the agreements, and the universities are keen to engage in this way. A key point of departure here for the universities is that there must be a tailor-made approach. Universities, cities and regions differ from each other in terms of the extent to which internationalisation plays a role, the demand from the labour market and the accommodation situation. It is important to remember that there are labour market shortages in a wide range of different sectors, not only in engineering and technology. Moreover, universities do not educate students directly for the labour market but graduates also make significant contributions to urgent social problems. 


Fundamental change in funding is required
Like Minister Dijkgraaf, the universities feel that, as well as regulatory mechanisms and administrative agreements, a change in the way higher education is funded is also required. Universities should not be funded on the basis of student numbers and market shares but rather on the basis of capacity and stable long-term agreements. Duisenberg: “The Minister is currently exploring the future of education and science in the Netherlands (through the Toekomstverkenning onderwijs en wetenschap). We hope that this will lead to a system that is better aligned with what is required in terms of both Dutch and international talent and that will make funding is less dependent on student numbers and market shares. The current funding system is a distribution model. It is a model that is not suited to the challenges of our time.”


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