No rise in international student numbers ahead of new laws

New students in Leiden gather for the El Cid freshers week. Photo: Brandon Hartley

Fewer international students started a bachelor’s degree at a Dutch university this year, but slightly more signed up for a master’s, according to preliminary figures.

However, the figures are low – down just 220 on 2022 – and were counteracted by the “marginal” increase in international students arriving in the Netherlands for a master’s degree. In total, 35,000 international students started a degree this year.

Universities are focusing less on international recruitment and have given potential students more information about the housing shortage, the universities’ association UNL said on Friday.

“These numbers show that the growth in international intake at universities has stopped… As such, we urge the government not to take any radical measures that would damage the quality of our education and research,” UNL deputy president Jouke de Vries said.

The outgoing government is planning to clamp down on foreign student numbers, partly by ensuring far more degree course are taught in Dutch.

Science is, by its very nature, international, so we must foster the international nature of our universities,” De Vries said. “In addition, due to enormous shortages on the labour market, society needs international students who continue to work in the Netherlands after they graduate.”

Rather than blanket measures, such as compulsory Dutch classes, the universities want tools so they can control the intake of international students at a degree level. “We would like to continue discussions with the government about this.”

At hbo colleges, there was no increase in the number of bachelor’s students but a slight increase in master’s students, taking the total number of new international college students to 12,000.

The issue also has a key role in the ongoing election campaign, with many parties calling for limits on international student numbers and more promotion of Dutch language degrees. Three quarters of international students come from Europe and the largest group are from Germany.

Meanwhile, an experiment at the University of Amsterdam which has introduced quotas on foreign student numbers for some courses does appear to be working, the Parool reported on Friday.

Last year, just 29% of first year psychology students spoke Dutch but that has now gone up to 53% since a ceiling on the number of international students was brought in.

In political science, however, where a ceiling on total student numbers was introduced the number of Dutch speaking first year students fell from 34% to 26%. This would imply that a limit on numbers led some Dutch students to apply to a different higher education institute to be sure of getting a place, the paper said.

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