A group of university chairs in the Netherlands has called for figures in parliament to stop attacking international students and the prospect of their recruitment.
The letter, written in the popular daily newspaper NRC, describes that an onslaught on international student recruitment will only help to “increase national labour shortages”.
“In doing so, [parliament] turns a blind eye to the fact that the shortage on the labour market – think of technology, ICT, education and care – is already causing major problems for us,” the opinion piece, signed by representatives from Breda University of Applied Sciences, Tilburg University and others, reads.
“In the coming decades, hundreds of thousands of new highly educated professionals will be needed in the Netherlands, and labour market shortages will only increase without adequate measures,” it continued.
A group representing the universities of applied sciences has also “slammed” the proposed cap, saying student recruitment from abroad was “crucial to filling gaps” in the labour market.
It comes after a parliamentary motion, spearheaded by MPs Peter Kwint and Harry van der Molen, was passed in the country’s lower house at the end of November calling on education minister Robert Dijkgraaf to begin limiting the amount of international students that can be recruited by universities, citing issues with housing and a lack of immigration checks.
Fred de Vries, head of internationalisation strategy and the University of Twente – whose president also signed the open letter – said the government’s approach didn’t take the different approaches by different institutions into account.
“We are actually very targeted. We are really trying to get the right talents to the Netherlands for the right programs, and for the programs where there’s a shortage,” de Vries told The PIE News.
“Although the Netherlands is a small country, the differences are quite big from region to region”
“We choose a deliberate profile and we are taking that very seriously in terms of the quality of education, of making students feel welcome and making sure that they are part of life here, and that they are being the best they can be as global citizens,” he reasoned.
The motion was passed after much debate in the parliament by numerous senior members in the last month, including Hatte van der Woude, saying that universities are filling up while Dijkgraaf has not yet made a concrete plan to control numbers.
Dijkgraaf himself originally said that there would be a revised plan to help with the issue in February 2023, but it has clearly not placated enough members of the lower house.
The minister, according to de Vries, is asking two educational bodies, the Universities of Applied Sciences and the Netherlands Research Universities, for suggestions on how to handle the current influx of students without having to curb numbers in the way parliament demands.
“The big issue is that although the Netherlands is a small country, the differences are quite big from region to region.
“The best outcome would be that we are going to put instruments in place on steering influx of students from [across the world],” de Vries observed.
The Netherlands has faced a number of issues regarding its international students in the last year. Despite a 7% uptick in the amount coming to study, a bitter housing crisis affecting both international and domestic students alike has sought to tarnish the country’s reputation.
That 7% rise is also the slowest growth figure in the last five years.
The motion was made in the same week that Germany announced it would be following on with an “active immigration policy” – targeting an amount of 7 million people by the year 2035 to deal with crippling labour shortages.
“The international knowledge and innovation strategy the Netherlands has says very clearly that higher education institutes need space to actually find talents in the world, so to speak, especially in areas such as technical sciences, engineering and IT, where there is shortage in the future labour markets,” de Vries noted.
The open letter implores parliament to remember the “world-leading” Dutch universities of applied sciences that offer select students that are “high-quality” in many fields – many in areas with labour shortages – and that some universities have incredibly high reputations in being international.
“Maastricht University, located in the heart of Europe with a range that is tailored to this. They train from a conscious educational vision with an international and intercultural character. The Netherlands is also an export country that has to maintain its international appeal,” the letter reads.
Saxion University, an institution in Enschede, released its own statement on the ongoing issue, arguing that a “more nuanced approach” is necessary.
“While studying students become acquainted with the regional labour market. Due to the increasing demand for talent there are lots of job opportunities in many sectors for foreign students after graduation… particularly in regions of demographic decline, international students are vital in combating labour shortages,” said its president Anka Mulder.
“We will know after the Christmas break from the minister of Education what direction he is choosing, and then we will need to work that out and I trust that the universities can take responsibility in that,” de Vries added.