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The Maagdenhuis

Interview with UvA Board about the Act on Balanced Internationalisation

Published on 10-10-2023
Outgoing education Minister Dijkgraaf’s bill for the Act on Balanced Internationalisation is a source of uncertainty within universities. At the UvA, as at other institutions, many international students and employees are questioning whether they are still welcome in the Netherlands and at the UvA. An interview with Executive Board President Geert ten Dam and Rector Magnificus Peter-Paul Verbeek.
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The online consultation for the Act on Balanced Internationalisation (Wet internationalisering in balans) has concluded. Up until mid September, everyone had the opportunity to express their views on this bill introduced by Minister Dijkgraaf of Education, Culture and Science. The bill contains measures relating to language, taking control and a focus on student admissions in order to more effectively manage the number of international students who come to the Netherlands. The aim is to achieve a better balance when it comes to internationalisation in higher education. Once any changes are made by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the bill will now be submitted to the Council of State for advice before being submitted to the House of Representatives for approval. The exact timing is not yet known. The proposed measures are a source of uncertainty and concern, particularly for international staff. How will the Act affect their job security? But also, what is the UvA’s position on the importance of internationalisation for research and education? What is the UvA doing to limit the negative impact?

Read more about the Act on Balanced Internationalisation on student.uva.nl

It’s a burning question at the start of a new academic year: are there more international students this year?  

Peter-Paul Verbeek (PPV): ‘We don’t yet have the figures, but we expect to see growth in the Master’s programmes.’

Geert ten Dam (GtD): ‘Of course it’s a good thing that students are choosing our programmes. But we don’t feel that this growth is necessary for all programmes. Growth has consequences: increasing work pressure, housing issues, a poorer student to lecturer ratio. We want to be able to make adjustments, but we ourselves don’t have enough management instruments to so.’

So, does that mean this bill comes at exactly the right time? 

PPV: ‘First I want to emphasise that both our international staff and students are important to us. We don’t want to lose anyone. They are part of our DNA and are essential to our university community and the Netherlands as a knowledge economy.’

GtD: ‘It grieves me that students and colleagues are now questioning whether they are still welcome; the political sentiment surrounding the law is detrimental to the quality of our education and research. It is not in keeping with our internationally oriented country, with international academia or with the UvA.’

PPV: ‘We believe that the current bill contains a number of positive elements. Greater control over the ever-growing international student intake is required for some popular programmes to guarantee the quality of education. So we are in favour of proposals that enable programmes to make their own decisions, such as the option for a programme to introduce an enrolment quota for an English-taught track, because we can’t currently do that.’

GtD: ‘We asked the government for management instruments, a brake for programmes that need it. What we have received are far-reaching language measures that are at odds with our profile as a bilingual university and that seriously affect our education programmes. We are not against internationalisation; we are against unbridled growth without management options for the faculties.

PPV: ‘Exactly. High-quality research and education benefit from international connections. We cannot function without them. The university is a place where different views, disciplines and cultures come together. The fact that the Netherlands holds a top international position despite a limited budget is largely due to our international character, which allows scientists from all corners of the world to feel at home here and contribute to science.’

But...?

GtD: ‘A major concern is the non-Dutch-taught programme assessment: all existing bilingual and non-Dutch-taught Bachelor’s programmes will be required to pass this assessment within six months after the Act comes into effect. Does this mean that the language of instruction within programmes must revert to Dutch, and if so, which ones and what exceptions are possible? We do not yet know the answers to any of these questions. It is very difficult when you yourself are not at the helm. It was irresponsible to have caused this alarm.’ 

PPV: ‘We are hearing from faculties that international colleagues are afraid of losing their jobs at short notice. Candidates for tenure track positions are not sure whether they should take this step because of the uncertainty. There are concerns that it will be even more difficult to fill vacancies because international candidates may no longer want to come to the Netherlands due to the grim political climate.’

Can you allay these fears?

GtD: ‘We are doing everything we can to make the Minister of Education and the political parties aware of the unwanted side effects of this law. We are doing this together with the umbrella organisation Universities of the Netherlands.’

PPV: ‘At the same time the UvA needs to prepare for what is to come, because it’s clear that things will change if the law is passed. We will be investing in Dutch language teaching for staff and students. We have reservations about the practicability of the measures currently set out in the bill, however we believe that a passive or active command of Dutch contributes toward collaboration, cohesion and integration in our academic community and in Dutch society. We will actively support efforts in this area.’ 

PPV: ‘. The Executive Board will be holding discussions with students and employees in a number of thematic Executive Board hoursExternal link, which anyone can sign up to. We want to find out what's going on and we can explain our position and what efforts we are making.’

GtD: ‘Above all, we have an important message for all our international students and staff. We want you to know that you are immensely important to the UvA. We want to continue to educate students who will soon go on to tackle global issues. An international learning and research environment in which students and scientists from around the world come together plays an essential role in this process.’       

Read the full input from the Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) on the bill (PDF, 10 pp.) (pdf)