“Further detailing of plans for international students is crucial”

“Further detailing of plans for international students is crucial”

UM President Letschert on minister Dijkgraaf’s internationalisation letter

26-04-2023 · Background

There are positive sides to the letter about international students that minister Dijkgraaf sent to Parliament last Friday, but not all of her concerns have been taken away, says President Rianne Letschert. “What will Parliament say during the debate on 15 June and how exactly will the outlines be worked out?”

Let’s start off with the good news: the minister emphasised in his letter that universities in border regions, such as Maastricht University, are in a different position than universities in the centre of the country. He does not want general measures but tailor-made ones. This was a relief for Letschert: “If that had not been included, I would have been slightly panicky by now.”

The same applies to the fact that Dijkgraaf emphasises the positive sides of internationalisation, for society, the knowledge economy, and more. Letschert expressed her concerns to Observant at the beginning of March. “What I miss in this discussion, is the vision of the system as a whole, I miss the awareness that a university is not an island, but is embedded in society,” she said at the time. That idea seems to have gotten through to the minister.

In addition, Letschert feels that it is “good news” that universities can introduce a restricted entry policy for the English tracks of study programmes. “It is a good thing that there will be legal instruments for those universities who need them.” Back in March, Letschert said that UM was not one of them; she believes that this university can deal with the influx of international students.

Centralised coordination

That does not mean that all concerns have been taken away. “Next month we will have a talk with the civil servants of the Ministry of Education about the details of these plans. The minister, for example, wants ‘a form of centralised coordination’, but what exactly does he mean by that? Will he deprive the institutes of their autonomy to determine in which sectors we recruit international students? To what extent can we, as Executive Board and deans decide on our strategy? If that is all to be done centrally, we have our own ideas about that, as we don’t agree.”

Letschert is part of one of the working groups that is the link between the ministry and the fourteen Dutch universities. “Ultimately, all universities have to sign the administrative agreement.” The last word has not yet been said on the matter.

According to Letschert, the debate that Dijkgraaf will have with Parliament on 15 June is “crucial. How much room will they give the minister to implement his plans in this way? I will continue to talk to many members of parliament and inform them of the tremendous consequences for UM if the influx of international students is to be reduced. Then we will have a problem, and not just we, but the whole chain around us – from the university hospital to the baker who supplies us with rolls for meetings.”

Language policy

As far as language policy is concerned, the details are equally important. “The requirement that employees have to speak Dutch, is something we already introduced that in 2018. Our policies fit in seamlessly with what the minister wants in that area.” The fact that Dijkgraaf also wants to reach ‘administrative agreements’ about the ‘language used in board meetings’ at universities and universities of applied sciences (Dutch, in principle, and bilingual if necessary), as far as Letschert is concerned, “was unnecessary. That is something you should leave up to the institutes. But UM is already bilingual, so that is not a problem for us.”

But what is to happen with the international students – Dijkgraaf wants universities to improve the Dutch language skills of all students – is an area where many questions are still waiting to be answered. “What should the level of their Dutch be? Social Dutch – as we currently offer on a non-committal basis, and which half of the internationals make use of – or level C1? That makes quite a difference. Also, will there be an addendum to their diplomas, stating that they passed the Dutch language course? Then it is compulsory, but not part of the curriculum. If it is to become a compulsory subject, you need to drop a subject in all study programmes. We have to look at what is feasible.”

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Joey Roberts

Tags: internationalisation, dutch, language, dijkgraaf, legislation, international, students,language policy,dutch,english

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