International students are a cash cow for the Netherlands

There are smarter solutions than abolishing English-language programmes to curb the influx of international students. Offer them a better starting position in the labour market in the Netherlands and more access to Dutch society by making knowledge of the Dutch language and culture mandatory. They are a cash cow for the Netherlands because we desperately need them in an ageing labour market with a world-class economy.

hands shuffeling a pile of coins

In the tumult of the ever-increasing inflow of asylum migrants in the Netherlands as well as Europe, it is easy to lose sight of the long term. Europe is an ageing society, and the resulting rising economic grey pressure of older people is a long-term fact. We, therefore, need immigrants, and the more educated they are, the better. An ideal target group for the Netherlands are the knowledge workers who enter the country through a knowledge migrant scheme: immediately employable and highly productive. They fill the large gaps in the Dutch labour market for personnel in the world's top companies with the most high-end technologies, such as ASML and the start-ups, companies and knowledge institutes on the Brightland Chemelot Campus.

Another attractive target group are highly skilled student migrants. The non-EU migrants (from so-called third countries) also pay full tuition fees without any subsidy from the Dutch government. If we do the maths for the Netherlands: in a cost-benefit calculation, they are a cash cow. For instance, a non-EU student of academic education brings in almost €100,000 on balance over the life cycle, which is much more than an EU student (around €17,000). Five years after graduation, there are still about 15,000 non-EU students in the Netherlands (HBO and WO), which is a stay ratio of 38% (EU students 19%). In total, the annual intake of all foreign students in higher education ultimately earns the Netherlands almost 2 billion euros (source: CBS, CPB, Nuffic).

That the notion of a cash cow for large numbers of student migrants does not necessarily apply here (no ‘massa is kassa’/'mass is cash') is because there are several concerns about the large number of international students in academic education, which doubled to around 85,000 at Dutch universities over the past six years. These concerns relate to the quality of Dutch education, the preservation of the Dutch language at universities, the Dutch language skills of Dutch students, the English language skills of professors, the crowding-out of Dutch students in English-language programmes, and also the accommodation of foreign students.

In fact, many Dutch higher education institutions have started copying the successful Maastricht model. That should not have been the intention. In response to the Veerman Committee's report (‘de Commissie Toekomstbestendig Hoger Onderwijsstelsel’ / ‘the Committee on the Futureproof Higher Education System’) in 2011, it was decided at the time that universities and colleges of higher education should become unique and students should be able to choose from more flavours. In short, each institution in higher education should profile itself in its own way. For Maastricht University, creating new English-language bachelor and master programmes was very obvious because of its border location in a shrinking region, but not at all for many other institutions. As a result, the Maastricht University (the 'European University of the Netherlands') and its region have far fewer concerns about the large influx of foreign students being raised elsewhere.

Measures to abolish English-language programmes are blunt and disastrous for the Dutch economy. They kill the cash cow that actually represents the need for highly skilled foreign workers. It is much smarter to introduce mandatory Dutch classes or language skills training in curricula or to require a minimum level of knowledge of the Dutch language and culture. This could even be useful for the STEM programmes (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) educations that show the highest stay and employment rates of graduates. It will curb the influx of foreign students who are really not interested in a job in the Netherlands. Those who are interested in doing so will then have more access to Dutch society and a better starting position in the labour market in the Netherlands. As many as 36% of international students indicated that the lack of Dutch language skills had a negative impact on their chances of staying. We desperately need these young foreign graduates in a society that is ageing and wants to remain among the world's best in terms of economy.

Also read