Pressing letters for politicians in the Hague from across Limburg

Pressing letters for politicians in the Hague from across Limburg

‘Drastically limiting the influx of foreign students will be disastrous for Limburg’

22-03-2024 · News

MAASTRICHT. If politicians in The Hague decide to drastically limit the influx of foreign students, that won’t just have disastrous consequences for Maastricht University, but for the whole province. That message, presented in two pressing letters, is sent to politicians in The Hague today by UM, other Limburg education institutes, the Province of Limburg, cities from Maastricht to Venlo, trade unions, MKB and the Brightlands campuses.

Forty per cent fewer students at UM (from 22,900 to 13,500), 16 per cent fewer at Zuyd hogeschool, a permanent loss of 4,500 jobs in the Euregio and a drop in the Limburg economy of almost 1 billion euro in the next cabinet period (four years). Commissioned by the university and the university of applied sciences, research agency Panteia calculated the “economic footprint” of the two institutes for the city of Maastricht, the province and the Euregio. They also looked at the consequences of the government deciding to opt for Dutch as the official language in the bachelor’s education programmes. The fact that these letters have landed in The Hague today, has everything to do with the four parties (PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB) that are currently taking serious steps towards creating a new coalition. None of those four is in favour of far-reaching internationalisation of higher education, but they do support the idea of strong regions. Striking while the iron is hot seems to be the Limburg strategy.

Tailor-made solution

This worst-case scenario – Dutch as the official language – won’t happen, states the pressing letter from UM and other education institutes: “It has become clear that a rigorous halt to the influx of international students is totally undesirable.” But there is still a lot of uncertainty. For months, Minister Dijkgraaf has been working on his bill ‘Internationalisering in balans’ (Balanced Internationalisation). The things he wants include protection of Dutch in higher education and helping universities that can no longer manage the influx of foreign students because of, for example, housing problems or overfull lecture halls.

The universities themselves also acknowledge those bottlenecks, but they don’t want one generic measure (changing all English bachelor’s programmes to Dutch at all universities), but a ‘tailor-made’ solution. After all, the institutes are located in different regions, each with its own needs and problems. UM, as President Rianne Letschert has emphasised time and again, is situated in a border region where the population is ageing and shrinking, and for which the university is an important economic driver. At the same time, Maastricht University – just like its sister institutes – has put a stop to the introduction of new English bachelor’s programmes, and Dutch fluency for students and employees is receiving more attention.

Prevent erosion

The ageing population, state the pressing letters, will cause a considerable drop in the influx of secondary vocational education, universities of applied sciences and universities. International students could fill this gap and thus prevent “erosion” (the disappearance of study programmes). Aside from that, people from abroad are of “crucial importance to counter the shortage on the labour market” and to support the development of the four Brightlands campuses, as well as the Einstein Telescope.

And no, the regional authorities write, “the quality of education is not under pressure because of the arrival of international students, youths in Limburg are not being elbowed out. International students in our region are just our students.” And what about the housing problem? We can solve that together, they write. And the high workload for lecturers? A lot of attention is being given to that too, it states.

Keep in our region

As far as the future is concerned, the various parties will make a joint effort, “even more so than is the case at the moment, to keep foreign students in our region after graduation”. How this can be done, the letter does not say. Things like research, work placements or graduation assignments for businesses or the semi-public sector, says the UM spokesperson in answer to questions. Or a UM project such as ‘Knowledge Engineering at Work’, where students work part-time for two years for SME businesses to help with the applications of artificial intelligence.

The letter continues: “We like to stress that while we are convinced that the English language is necessary in education, we will also make great efforts to let our students become acquainted with Dutch.” At UM this is done with free basic courses of Social Dutch for first- and second-year bachelor’s and master’s students, and a Dutch language course at B2 level for those who speak another language. Since 2018 the university has also had a language policy for employees; they are expected to have a certain degree of fluency in both languages, depending on their position. The introduction of this is still ongoing.

Author: Riki Janssen

Photo: Shutterstock

Categories: News, news_top
Tags: internationalisation,english,dutch,region,limburg,pressing letters,inlfux,foreign,internationals,students

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