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The Netherlands’ new vision of internationalisation in the making

The debate on internationalisation is again picking up steam in the Netherlands. In May, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (VH) published an Internationalisation Agenda addressed to the Dutch Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven. The authors of this document make recommendations intended to help better manage the inflow of international students to Dutch universities, whose striking number is both a source of pride, but also of concern for Dutch taxpayers, HEIs and the government. 
According to Nuffic, in 2016 there were 112 000 international students in the Netherlands. Of these, 81 392 were degree-seeking international students,  corresponding to 11.4% of the total student population in the country. In other words, one in every 10 students in Dutch higher education is an international degree-seeking student. This is an increase of 6 163 students compared to the previous year and the highest ever absolute growth. In addition, there were 11 500 incoming credit mobile students that came from another European country, on exchange or work placement with the Erasmus+ programme, and over 19 360 credit mobile students from countries outside the EU/EEA. Overall, the international students contribute to the Dutch economy with about EUR 1.57 billion per year. 
Worries include the fact that Dutch students and teachers do not always feel “at home”, with such a big number of English-taught programmes; the accommodation market is tremendously under pressure; internationalisation does not always go hand-in-hand with quality. Among the measures suggested by VSNU to respond to these challenges, there is the introduction of a “numerus fixus” for English-language tracks only (so that Dutch students can always be granted accessibility, either to the English tracks or to the Dutch ones) and raising the fees for non European Economic Area (EEA) students. 
Ingrid van Engelshoven answered these recommendations in a letter, whose content has been both welcomed and criticised by Dutch HEIs. In it, the Minister highlights the strategic importance of internationalisation for the Netherlands, both in economic terms and in the added value that this brings to the Dutch society, which is traditionally very open and outward-looking. Nevertheless, she reminds that internationalisation must not be an end in itself and that a balance must be found. According to the Minister, the core is not so much about more or less internationalisation, but about quality. Furthermore, the Minister underlines that the choice of English as medium of instruction is not necessarily always the right choice for every programme, nor for every student, as it very much depends on the subject and its practical applicability. Therefore, she calls on universities to take responsibility for their language choices in order to better manage the student inflow. In short, English should be chosen upon two conditions: that it has a clear added value and that the interest of Dutch students is taken into account. The latter has been criticised by many stakeholders as a rather chameleonic statement. In any case, the Minister said she will now study the new law making options, but she did not indicate how quotas or similar measures would be possible for EU subjects. To be continued. 
Internationalisation agenda (in Dutch)
Minister’s letter (in Dutch)