Too many international students at Dutch universities?

The University of Amsterdam is putting a stop to the growth of international student numbers. After years of actively recruiting and enrolling students from other countries, concerns have been raised that the influx of international students may be crowding out domestic students. Is it time for Dutch universities to close the floodgates on internationals?

Dutch universities are welcoming more international students than ever before. At the University of Amsterdam (UvA), the number of international students has seen a fourfold increase in ten years’ time. 15 percent of the university’s student population, and 25 percent of all first-years, are now internationals. After years of actively stimulating processes of internationalization, the UvA has now raised serious concerns about Amsterdam’s student housing shortages, the accessibility of study programs for Dutch students, and a disproportionally large influx of students from specific countries.

The UvA celebrated its 386th birthday on Monday. Rector magnificus Karen Maex gave a speech, in which she addressed the issue. She asked the audience to imagine a lecture hall in the future in which 80 percent of the students are German or Chinese. “This is not in line with what we have in mind for an international classroom”, she said.

Although internationalization has largely impacted Dutch higher education positively, Maex raised the question: at what point do the negative implications of enrolling international students at Dutch universities outweigh the benefits?

Housing crisis

One major concern is the structural shortage of affordable student housing in Amsterdam. Last year, local politician Laurens Ivens of the Socialist Party (SP) accused universities of adding to the housing problem by actively recruiting more and more international students. “Universities should be asking themselves why they are opening the floodgates to new students”, he stated.

The growth in international student numbers is increasingly putting strains on the housing market, and not just in Amsterdam. In Groningen, the university student council urged the municipality to rapidly build new student flats last October, writing that the housing crisis forced hundreds of international students to sleep in emergency shelters. In Tilburg, similar problems have occurred. Universities are growing, but cities don’t seem to be growing along.

“Growth is not the goal, large numbers are not the goal, money is not the goal”

Crowded out

Another concern is the accessibility of study programs for Dutch students. As more and more popular study programs are becoming English-taught, domestic students increasingly have to compete with international students to get into the program of their choice. As a result, Dutch students may be crowded out by students from other countries.

According to Maex, universities are now faced with the challenge to maintain accessibility for Dutch students in times for far-reaching academic internationalization. “This requires our full attention”, she said.

‘Growth is not the goal’

Maex emphasized that the growth of the university should not be seen as a goal in itself. “Growth is not the goal, large numbers are not the goal, money is not the goal”, she said. She asked what are the goals of the university, and she answered her own question: “To attract the right talent for the program. To offer the right programs. To improve the quality of our education. To provide a stimulating student experience, as well as an international perspective. And, finally, as the UvA, to be firmly rooted in society and to help shape it. And that goes for both Dutch society and international society.”

According to Maex, what is important in the internationalization of higher education is to find balance. In her speech last Monday, she suggested that globalization processes at university are running up against their limits. “We must set the limits of growth in internationalization, to ensure that we can go on providing quality and added value”, she said.

“It should be possible to control the inflow of international students”


In the future, the doors of the University of Amsterdam will no longer be wide open to international students. Maex argued that it is necessary to keep a balanced ratio of Dutch students to international students. That means that the country’s most international university, located in the country’s most international city, will set a limit to the number of internationals it accepts.

Maex did not specify what the limits of the percentage of international student will be, but she did say that she wanted to have “mixed groups” from different countries and the Netherlands. “That means we must have a way to steer this process accordingly – something that is still difficult to achieve at the moment”, she explained. This may be difficult to achieve, but, Maex stated, it is achievable: “In my opinion, it should be possible to control the inflow of international students.”

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