5 March 2018 • HOP Bas Belleman
MPs doubt benefits resulting from quotas for foreign students
Should institutions of higher education be able to limit the number of international students in their degree programmes? The parties in the Lower House who have voiced an opinion so far don’t think so.
The Delft University of Technology is already doing it; non-EU students can no longer register for its Computer Science degree programme. Education lawyers have explained that this is discrimination based on nationality and is thus against the law. Even Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven, however, understood why this university was taking this measure. ‘Necessity knows no laws,’ she said during a meeting with students and staff which was reported on in Delta, the university’s newsletter. She promised not to blow the whistle on the university.
A matter of interpretation
‘Administrators have to put their own twist on laws and regulations,’ pointed out Van Engelshoven. ‘Laws always have to be interpreted. Even though a law serves as a basis, problems that might crop up should always be considered.’ But should this be standard policy? The Delft University of Technology and the University of Amsterdam want to be permitted to use a quota system to limit the number of international students in their degree programmes, but should this be allowed?
MP Harry van der Molen (CDA party) doesn’t like this idea, and not just because of its legal implications. ‘If you want to teach an entire degree programme in English, you shouldn’t be surprised later that it attracts a lot of foreign students,’ he said. ‘I’m not the class dunce. You can’t just say you’re going to teach your degree programmes in English and then turn around and say you want to regulate how many foreign students will be accepted.’ In his opinion, internationalising every subject simply isn’t necessary and shouldn’t be done. ‘We’ve passed the time when internationalisation was a theme thought to be as important as world peace – something everyone is well in favour of. By now, we’re also seeing its disadvantages.’
A source of income
He didn’t think putting a quota on international students would be a solution. He’d rather look at how universities were funded. According to him, recruiting as many international students as possible is sometimes seen by universities as a source of income. ‘Maybe this “little contest” between universities should be curtailed.’
The other governing parties don’t want to respond yet. ‘If you don’t mind, I’d rather not say anything about this yet,’ answered MP Paul van Meenen (D66). He’d rather wait until this spring after Minister Van Engelshoven has issued a letter stating her position on internationalisation in higher education. His colleagues in the other governing parties (ChristenUnie and VVD) haven’t responded yet either.
Removing an incentive?
Like the CDA, the left-wing opposition parties aren’t in favour of such a quota. ‘I don’t think much of it. I see it as a real last resort,’ said MP Frank Futselaar of the SP. He agrees with Van der Molen about looking at the funding system. As he explained it, the number of students has a major impact on the distribution of educational funding. ‘Institutions use foreign students to keep their slice of the pie big enough. Maybe we should remove this incentive.’
MP Kirsten van den Hul (PvdA) holds that internationalisation is often beneficial for higher education if only for the fact that having foreign students in their classes means that lecturers have to keep up on the international developments in their field. ‘What’s more, if we want Dutch students to receive part of their university education abroad, it’s only logical that foreign students should be allowed in here.’
She also sees the downside to this, however, and suspects that some universities actually want to recruit non-EU students because their tuition fees are a lot higher. ‘On the other hand, although I’m not so sure that a minimum percentage of Dutch students is really the silver bullet, I still think it’s important to consider solutions for this possibly perverse incentive.’
MP Zihni Özdil said that GroenLinks is against discrimination in any case, so he certainly doesn’t favour a quota. ‘Moreover, these quotas don’t really get to the bottom of the problem. We should be taking another look at internationalisation and encouraging it only when it would be beneficial. And we should also be looking at funding.’
He also added that we shouldn’t make such a big fuss about this. ‘When I hear Harm Beertema of the PVV denouncing Maastricht University where 52 percent of its students come from other countries, I think, “look at where Maastricht is located”. It’s only logical that so many of its students come from Belgium and Germany. Erasmus University Rotterdam also attracts a lot of students from the nearby Westland region.’