Proposed developments to the Dutch undergraduate system will limit the number of courses taught in English, promote the Dutch language, and resolve a national employment shortfall. It may also service recent public calls for less international places, allowing more Dutch nationals to attend undergraduate institutions.

Dutch universities have previously attracted large numbers of international students, because an increasing number of courses are taught in English. There are currently 122,287 international students enrolled in higher education in the Netherlands (15% of the student population). This is an increase from 115,000 in 2021/22.

A recent Guardian article highlighted that international students gave back more financially than they cost – up to €17,000 (US$18,603) for a European student and between €69,000 and €94,000 for non-European students. 1 in 4 stayed on, to live and work in the Netherlands having completed their degree.

But the most recent 2022-23 research from Nuffic (a Dutch education organisation specialising in international cooperation) suggests that this previous student growth has slowed. This is the first time since 2016 such a drop has occurred.

Robbert Dijkgraaf, the Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science, has now announced the government’s intention to restrict the number of English-taught Bachelor courses, stressing a legal need for courses to be ‘Dutch by default’. As a result, Dutch universities will be required to teach at least 2/3rds of Bachelor course in the Dutch by 2025-26 (although there is the possibility of applying for a legal exemption).

Dijkgraaf explained that “My starting point is that the language of education is Dutch. There can be room in the curriculum for another language, but I propose that it should not be more than a third. That means that most of your education is in Dutch, but if you want to give a few specialist subjects in English, that is allowed.” He hoped that these policies would result in more international students remaining in the Netherlands to work, after graduation. Dijkgraaf’s new draft proposals will be presented later in the year and are likely to include a demand that international students must learn Dutch outside of their studies.

This continues a series of policies limiting the number of international students at Dutch universities. These policies are partly in response to the great 2022 accommodation debacle, which highlighted major concerns about overcrowding at Dutch universities, placing an unbearable strain on the student housing market. Amsterdam was particularly badly affected. As a result, many 1st year international students were left homeless, and some abandoned their courses to return home.

However, Dijkgraaf’s proposals have been met with anger by leading Dutch universities, who have expressed fears about the impact on attracting international talent, sourcing Dutch-speaking staff, and the loss of non-EU international students (who pay higher course fees). Robert-Jan Smits (Eindhoven University of Technology) said “For a number of courses we can’t even find professors who can speak Dutch. If we are obliged to give quite a substantial part of our bachelor courses in Dutch, we won’t be able to do that: we don’t even have the staff to teach for instance AI in Dutch. There’s a huge shortage.”

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Boztas. S. The Guardian. ‘Dutch by default’: Netherlands seeks curbs on English-language university courses’. 20th June 2023.

Kealy-Roberts. D. Study Travel (online). ‘Growth of international student enrolment in the Netherlands has slowed’. 16th May 2023.

Kealy-Roberts. D. Study Travel (online). ‘Dutch government announces plans to set limits on English-taught courses’. 27th June 2023

Pascoe. R. Dutch News (online). ‘Dutch universities, students slam plans to slash English courses’. 22nd June 2023.

Packer. H. The PIE News (online).  ‘Universities warn students not to travel amid housing shortages’. 19th August 2022. 

Staff Writer. Erudera News (online). ‘Netherlands: Parliament Urges Universities to Not Recruit More Int’l Students Due to Housing Shortage’. 12th December 2022.