Internationalisation in Balance bill submitted for consultation
Last Friday, despite the fall of the cabinet, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science published its Internationalisation in Balance bill. Stakeholders can respond to the bill digitally in an online consultation process lasting until mid-September. As expected, the bill proposes stricter rules for bachelor’s programmes offered in a language other than Dutch. Although the bill now stresses the importance of the international dimension of higher education, the ministry is of the opinion that the current growth in the numbers of foreign students needs to be curbed to preserve the quality and accessibility of education, maintain the affordability of the system and ease the strain on housing and healthcare.
It is encouraging that the explanatory memorandum indicates in several places that the efficiency test and decisions on whether to permit study programmes in a foreign language will take account of regional differences. However, the bill does not state outright that regional interests will play a definitive role. We intend to call again for more clarity on this point, despite the fact that the bill is likely to be declared controversial and therefore shelved by the House of Representatives in the run-up to the elections and the formation of a new government, which is (also) scheduled for mid-September. In addition to the joint response to be drafted with the other universities, UM will continue to plead its case in The Hague over the summer. Our international students and staff are indispensable, and our international orientation is what makes us an economic and social driver in the region.
Although we expect the bill soon to be shelved, it is worth taking a brief look at some of its key points. The aim of the bill is to better manage the influx of international students through language, university self-management and caps on student numbers. For the bill itself and the explanatory memorandum, please click here.
According to the explanatory memorandum, the new regulations are intended to bring about a more sustainable system by limiting the proliferation of English-taught programmes. The ministry aims to achieve this by ensuring that study programmes are, in principle, taught in Dutch (meaning that at least two thirds of the curriculum is offered in Dutch). Programmes in a different language will be subject to a new and stricter efficiency test conducted by the ministry’s Committee for Macro-efficiency in Higher Education (CDHO). Based on the committee’s advice, the minister will then decide whether or not to permit the programme. The new test will consider specific regional and economic circumstances (e.g. whether the sector faces labour shortages), the availability of teaching staff, the international positioning of the programme and the totality of provisions in the higher education sector (e.g. whether the programme is also available in Dutch). The bill does not describe the new test in detail, however. And although it indicates that the minister may deviate from the advice of the CDHO with good reason, it does not specify what such a reason may be. Instead it refers to a policy rule that has yet to be drawn up. For UM, it is crucial to know what this policy rule will look like before the bill is adopted.
The efficiency test will apply to bachelor’s programmes offered in a foreign language; master's programmes are exempt. Both new and existing bachelor’s programmes will be subject to the test. Six months after the law is introduced, existing programmes will be examined collectively by the universities, which will then submit a joint proposal to the minister. The minister will take the final decision and is not bound by the recommendation of the joint universities. If the universities cannot reach a joint agreement, an institution can submit an individual application to the minister. Under a separate ministerial regulation, some programmes may automatically be taught in a language other than Dutch without submitting to a foreign-language assessment. These include programmes where another language or culture is the object of study, joint programmes with a foreign partner, and/or programmes characterised by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) as small scale and intensive (e.g. the university colleges).
The fact that master’s programmes may be offered in another language does not leave them unaffected by the new rules. The ministry places great value on the promotion of language skills. Universities will need to take steps to ensure that Dutch students master the Dutch language at an academic level. Furthermore, given that Dutch helps foreign students participate in society and increase the chance that they will stay in the Netherlands after graduation, foreign-language bachelor’s programmes will be required to devote 140 hours (5 ECTS) to Dutch language skills within the curriculum. Master’s programmes will be required to devote 56 hours (2 ECTS) to Dutch skills, but in extracurricular form. The government does not intend to impose an attainment level, and the universities themselves will be allowed to decide on how these measures are implemented.
Cap on student numbers
The bill also offers universities three different types of caps on student numbers. They will be allowed to limit the number of students admitted to a certain track of a programme, cap the number of places for non-EEA students, or use an emergency cap on all admissions to a certain programme. Unlike the measures outlined above, these are instruments that the universities themselves have previously requested. In the coming months, Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) will therefore advocate for only this part of the bill to be considered in the House of Representatives, and for the other parts to be deemed controversial.
We will continue to keep a close eye on the progress of the bill, and will update you as soon as there is news.
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