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The Value of International Students

During the last years, I have seen many articles regarding the influence of international students in the Netherlands. More and more Dutch universities offer the majority of their courses in English and are, according to critics, depending financially on international students. Some are concerned with the path the educational system has gone into and anxious that the quality of Dutch education will decrease.

In 2018, over 89,000 international students came to the Netherlands to start their bachelor or master’s degree, accounting for approximately twelve per cent of hbo- and university students in the Netherlands. ‘Not that much’, you may think. However, the number tripled in nearly a decade and therefore, did influence the structure of the Dutch educational system. For example, whilst only 5,000 of 35,000 students at the University of Amsterdam are international students, more than 70% of our master’s programmes are taught in English. Not a single European country, apart from the UK, offers as many programmes in English as the Netherlands.

Critics are concerned that the increasing amount of degrees offered in English will result in less quality, due to both students and teachers not fully mastering the English language. This also leads to some Dutch students not being able to complete a master’s degree in their native language, therefore making universities less accessible. However, a report by the ‘Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences’ concluded that more English-taught degrees do not have to lead to less educational quality. The globalizing trend we see may allow Dutch institutions to improve the quality of their education. For example, by acquiring more top tier professors and preparing students for a competitive international job market.

Another concern regards the economic effects of international students. A commonly used argument is that international students increase pressure on the housing market. They often get prioritised in receiving student housing, which is perceived as unfair by some. Moreover, there is a clear negative trend in Dutch students moving to university dorms in their first year. Only 39% of Dutch first-year students moved out of their family house last year, compared to 60% five years ago. However, to blame this negative trend and the rising rents on international students would be utterly irrational. The housing market and lack of university dorms is a significant domestic issue and cannot be blamed on the growing number of international students.

Furthermore, a study by the CPB concluded that on average, an international student from in- and outside the EU, contribute 11,000 and 82,000 EUR respectively to the Dutch economy during a lifetime. The large difference is due to European students moving back to their home country more often than non-Europeans and paying less tuition. Organisations such as the Dutch ‘National Students Union’, have been critical of universities’ motives in their acquiring of international students. They state that universities should not become financially dependent on international students. Critics and the public generally share the idea that internationalisation should be based on academic factors, not financial factors. Nonetheless, a recent report by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences, concluded that Dutch institutions are not becoming financially depending on international students, despite their significant increase in numbers. The share of international students is still relatively small compared to Dutch students and is expected to remain stable.

Apart from their financial benefits, international students contribute significantly to our universities. They bring tremendous amounts of knowledge and experience to the Netherlands as well as valuable diversified perspectives. Nevertheless, the interaction between Dutch- and international students is very limited outside of lecture halls. According to a study by the Erasmus Student Network among a thousand international students, 75% of international students wish more interaction with Dutch students. Hence, it is difficult for international students to integrate into our society. Partly because it is not an easy job to learn the Dutch language by cause of Dutch people immediately speaking English to internationals. This results in the majority of internationals moving back to their country of origin. For this reason, we should put more effort into stimulating interaction between international students and Dutch students as well as persuade more internationals to come and stay in the Netherlands. For example, by organizing more social events and perhaps offer free courses in Dutch for those who are interested. So that the Netherlands may benefit more, both financially and academically, from the value of international students.


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