Dutch universities collaborate to manage surge in enrolments

Capping course intakes causes student surges elsewhere, university president says, calling for ‘urgent’ political action to stem international flows

August 23, 2022
Source: Alamy

Dutch universities are coordinating course offerings as they struggle to manage rampant student growth ahead of long-awaited legal reforms later this year.

Surging demand for courses has forced universities to coordinate more closely, Ed Brinksma, president of Erasmus University Rotterdam, told Times Higher Education.

“A lot of Dutch universities are looking at coalitions because we can better spread the risk and create the slack to deal with disruptions in the system,” he said.

Coalitions, such as Rotterdam’s “very close collaboration” with Delft University of Technology and the Erasmus Medical Centre, could help members handle student growth which has hit about 4 per cent nationally.

Rotterdam was the last to offer a Dutch-language course in business administration, he said, with the resulting “waterbed effect” swelling it to one of the university’s largest programmes, he said.

“We have seen this in the past with caps on courses like psychology, which in some years were not implemented uniformly across the Netherlands, and then you would see that the universities that did not have a cap were flooded.”

As well as warning local partners when courses are due to be capped, closer cooperation allows institutions to pool resources and retain less popular programmes, he added.

Professor Brinksma cited a 2020 collaboration between Utrecht, Wageningen and Eindhoven universities, covering education, and a similar June 2022 deal between Maastricht and Radboud.

International students make up about a quarter of intakes across the country, according to Universities of the Netherlands, the national rectors’ conference, which has campaigned since 2018 for new legal instruments to control inward flows.

The group has requested a cap on international students from outside the European Union and a separate cap on courses taught in languages other than Dutch, with Dutch-language courses remaining uncapped for all.

Professor Brinksma said there was an “urgent” need for caps, praising the extra €700 million (£600 million) the government promised universities in June, but warning “all this would evaporate very soon” without action on student numbers.

Education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf told parliament earlier this year that his aim was to have the legal instruments ready for the first half of 2023. “He’s a very carefully operating person that takes things step by step,” said Professor Brinksma.

While universities may count on the backing of Professor Dijkgraaf, who was until his appointment as minister director at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, other politicians may not be so supportive.

The Dutch parliament is currently dominated by mid-sized and single-issue parties, who may recoil at measures smelling of selective admissions, something that remains “taboo” in Dutch political culture, Professor Brinksma said.

“I am convinced instruments will come. Whether they will need extra action on our part remains to be seen,” he said, referring to parliament.

Professor Brinksma, who has served as president of Hamburg University of Technology, said universities in Germany would have taken a different approach when facing similar growth pressure. “That’s the typical Dutch way, we’re very much a country of cooperation.”


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