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Balanced internationalisation bill

Published on 10-10-2023
The Balanced Internationalisation bill (Wetsvoorstel Internationalisering in balans) by Robbert Dijkgraaf, outgoing Minister of Education, Culture and Science, aims to achieve a better balance between the advantages and disadvantages of internationalisation in higher education. The bill is a source of uncertainty for universities.
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What prompted the bill?

Internationalisation contributes to a stimulating study climate, a strong connection to international scientific developments and a sufficient flow of talented new professionals into the labour market. At the same time there are concerns due to the ever-growing number of international students, which is unlimited in the case of some degree programmes. This unchecked growth is putting pressure on the accessibility of education, in particular for Dutch students. Overcrowded lecture halls and high work pressure among lecturers have a negative impact on the quality of education. In addition, there are concerns about the displacement of the Dutch language by English, especially at the Bachelor's level. Finally, there is a serious lack of student housing in the big cities. All in all, there is a need for instruments to control the number of international students.

What is in the bill?

The bill aims to achieve a better balance between the advantages and disadvantages of internationalisation in higher education. It contains measures relating to language, enrolment quotas and control.

Measures relating to language

  • If more than one third of the credits within a Bachelor’s degree are taught in a language other than Dutch, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science plans to assess the efficiency of the degree programme by means of a ‘non-Dutch-taught programme assessment’ (toets anderstalig onderwijs). The Minister will consider a number of criteria, including the labour market perspective (are there major shortages within the sector?) and the teachability (are there sufficient lecturers who can teach in Dutch?).
  • Bachelor’s programmes taught in a language other than Dutch must have Dutch language skills embedded in their curriculum. This can also be done outside the curriculum for Master’s programmes, but it will remain a compulsory element.

Measures relating to enrolment quotas

  • Currently, an enrolment quota can only be introduced for an entire programme. The bill makes it possible to establish a maximum for one (non-Dutch-taught) track. This can take the pressure off one track, while ensuring that the other (Dutch-language) track of the programme remains accessible. 
  • If a programme is suddenly faced with a large number of enrolments and this is placing the quality of education at risk, the programme can introduce an emergency quota.
  • If a programme has limited capacity, the bill provides for a maximum number of places for students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). This measure guarantees access for Dutch and European students.

Measures in relation to autonomy and control

  • The bill provides scope for the Minister of Education, Culture and Science to personally intervene as a last resort measure.

Is the bill final?

Up until mid-September 2023, the general public, companies and institutions were able to respond to the draft bill during an online consultationExternal link. In October 2023, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is to engage in further discussions with a delegation of research universities and universities of applied sciences, which includes the UvA. These discussions will address the practicability of the bill and any changes to it.

The bill will then need to pass through a long political process before it becomes final: it will be submitted to the Council of State for advice before being submitted to the House of Representatives for approval. It will then be submitted to the Senate and then published in the Bulletin of Acts and Decrees. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science’s target date for the bill to come into effect is 1 September 2024.

Position of the UvA

The UvA cherishes our international staff and students. They are part of our DNA and are essential to the quality of our education and research and to the Netherlands as a knowledge economy. The university must remain a place where different views, disciplines and cultures come together.

Control instruments are essential

We believe that the current bill contains a number of positive elements. As a bilingual university, with a diverse student and staff community, the UvA agrees that it is important to achieve a sustainable balance in internationalisation. For popular courses, we must be able to manage the ever-growing international influx, in order to continue to guarantee the quality of education. We need instruments that enable courses to make their own choices, such as the option for a programme to introduce an enrolment quota for an English-taught track.

The UvA is nevertheless critical of the bill

  • The UvA believes that the proposed measures relating to enrolment quotas are sufficient to achieve a sustainable balance in internationalisation. The other measures relating to language and control fail to achieve their objectives and have major undesirable side effects.
  • Furthermore, the UvA regrets the decision to define a number of crucial measures (such as the definition of ‘non-Dutch’ (anderstaligheid) and the assessment criteria for non-Dutch-taught programmes) not in the Act itself but in ‘ministerial regulations’. This creates legal uncertainty for the universities.
  • A major concern in the current proposal is the non-Dutch taught programme assessment for existing programmes: all existing bilingual and non-Dutch-taught Bachelor’s programmes will be required to pass this assessment, which assesses their efficiency, within six months after the Act comes into effect. Much remains unclear in this respect. Does this mean that the language of instruction within programmes must revert to Dutch, and if so, which ones and what exceptions are possible? This has not yet been established in the bill or in policy, creating a great deal of uncertainty.
  • The bill is an excessive encroachment on the autonomy and academic independence of universities. Responsibility for determining the number of Dutch language skills credits or the maximum number of students within a non-Dutch programme should lie with the universities, not with the minister. This is the only way we can guarantee the quality of our education.
  • The UvA considers the bill impracticable. The time frames specified are not feasible. An in-depth analysis of the financial implications is lacking.

The UvA has responded to the bill in collaboration with Universities of the Netherlands

Questions, concerns and discussions

You are warmly invited to a personal discussion with the Executive Board during the Executive Board Q&A on:

  • Thursday 12 October 12.30–13.30
  • Thursday 2 November 12:30–13:30

Read more about the Executive Board Q&AExternal link

Also see the interview with the Executive Board about the bill