Universities in the Netherlands have announced measures aimed at simultaneously reducing the number of international students and strengthening the Dutch language skills of students and staff with immediate effect.

Under the measures announced by Universiteiten van Nederland, an association representing 14 public universities in the Netherlands, no new government-funded English-language Bachelor’s programmes will be developed. Universities will also seek to convert existing English-language courses into Dutch so that home students have the option to attend major degree programmes that may not have been accessible to them previously. Existing English-language programmes will be subject to enrolment quotas to “reduce the international intake for Bachelor’s programmes”. 

Universities will no longer actively recruit international students at international fairs unless there are labour market shortages in a particular field at a national or regional level.

However, the Universiteiten van Nederland announcement cautions the government against more radical measures:

“The universities emphasise that the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater and want to dissuade the government from the radical, generic measures seen in some election programmes, such as converting all Bachelor’s degree programmes into Dutch. These measures will have significant negative consequences for society, the economy, universities and Dutch and international students.”

Key drivers for the measures include concerns that “excessively large groups” of international students can impact the quality of education, a desire to ensure that universities remain accessible for Dutch students, and the country’s student housing crisis.

Although Dutch universities, municipalities, student accommodation providers and student unions are working to increase the number of student housing beds in the Netherlands, the student housing situation in the Netherlands remains critical.

According to a report from NU.nl, students often search for up to six months before finding accommodation. The situation is more dire for those who want a studio room, with waiting times between three to five years for students in Amsterdam, Delft, and Leiden and “just under three years” for students in Tilburg. Jolan de Bie, Chair of Kences, an association for social student housing providers told Nu.nl that “you have to register at the age of sixteen if you want to have a chance of getting a room in time”.

The Netherlands’ National Action Plan for Student Housing sets an ambitious target to build 60,000 affordable student homes by 2030. As of 2022, the year the action plan was launched, there was a shortage of nearly 27,000 student beds in the Netherlands. This figure was previously projected to rise to just under 45,000 beds by 2029/30.

An ICEF Monitor report notes that prior to the development of the national action plan, the proposed number of new student beds to be built through 2025 was around 16,500. However, this figure would not have been sufficient to meet the current demand for student housing across the country. Several local markets, including Amsterdam, Leiden, Nijmegen, Rotterdam, Den Bosch, and Utrecht, are currently facing severe student housing shortages.

National Student Housing Monitor figures highlight that 53% of the Netherlands’ 754,500 higher education students live away from home. Almost half of those who live at home do so for affordability reasons, while 20% of those who stay at home report that this is because of a lack of student housing.