Dutch universities cut English-only programs by a third, offering more Dutch options

AMSTERDAM - Facing pressure to address the balance of international and domestic students, Dutch universities are implementing a major change. They are reducing the number of English-taught bachelor's programs by a third, with some programs transitioning entirely to Dutch and others offering a Dutch-language option alongside the existing English track. 

"The first tally shows that four bachelor's programs are switching completely to Dutch, 35 English-language programs are getting a Dutch version and that 27 programs want to introduce a numerus fixus on an English-language track," said Universiteiten van Nederland (UNL), the organization representing the theoretical universities in the Netherlands. By "numerus fixus," they referred to the current system to restrict the number of students in a handful of popular courses. 

This is typically only done when there is a logistical limit to placements in a course, like medicine, where it is not realistically possible to offer an additional course when more students show interest. Currently, universities can only adjust student intake numbers with the minister's approval. 

"This must first become legally possible. Universities are calling on politicians to arrange this quickly, so that they can introduce this before the 2025-2026 academic year," UNL wrote on Tuesday. They argued such a move will give Dutch students priority to enter these courses. 

This move comes after discussions with the government, represented by Minister of Education, Culture and Science Robbert Dijkgraaf. Dijkgraaf previously called for limitations on English-taught degrees to reduce international student numbers, arguing it would ease pressure on the Dutch education system. University leaders criticized the idea, saying it put their ability to join research projects with other institutions at risk, and ultimately damage their standing. 

UNL announced the new measures as part of a broader agreement on internationalization in education. This agreement aims to find a balance between attracting international talent and ensuring accessibility for Dutch students. 

The most significant change will be the reduction in English-language programs. This will allow students to choose their preferred language of instruction, potentially attracting Dutch students who might have previously opted for a different program due to language barriers. 

The agreement also addresses concerns about the Dutch language skills of international students. Universities will tighten their requirements and implement stricter monitoring to ensure students have the necessary language proficiency to succeed in their chosen program. 

"In addition to the agreements on the language of instruction, the universities have also tightened requirements on the Dutch language skills of students, recruitment abroad and the likelihood that graduates will stay," UNL wrote. 

Despite the changes, universities claim they are committed to the benefits of internationalization. They emphasize its contribution to a stimulating learning environment, stronger connections with global research, and the development of a diverse talent pool for the Dutch labor market. 

The new agreement represents a compromise between the universities' desire for self-management and the government's concerns about international student intake. By offering Dutch alternatives to English programs and implementing stricter regulations, universities hope to maintain a strong international presence while addressing the needs of the domestic student population.