“Internationalization in Balance” bill:
a cross-border impact assessment of higher education
At the end of 2022, the House of Representatives instructed the Dutch government to take measures against the influx of international students in higher education. In response, the Ministry of Education requested Dutch higher education to stop actively recruiting international students and to limit this recruitment to specific programs. Following this request, the legislative proposal “The Act on Internationalization in Balance” has been published for open consultation. This proposal calls for two-thirds of associate degree and bachelor’s programs to be taught in Dutch; numerous fixus to be implemented on the total number of international students from outside the EU; and a stringent test to be carried out on the programs that are not taught in Dutch. This legislative proposal has given rise to various questions such as the effects on the border-region universities that strive to retain international prestige and are dependent on the influx of international talents to contribute to the education and research in the Netherlands.
We did a Cross-border Impact Assessment of the new policy to evaluate the effects of this proposal on the border-region universities (such as Maastricht University), mobility of cross-border international and European students, and European citizens living across the borders. In evaluating the prospective effects of this policy, other relevant themes were also analyzed: (1) the potential violation of European measures regarding the promotion of mobility of European citizens; (2) the impact on sustainable socio-economic development, and (3) the competitive position of Dutch border-region universities.
Our analysis showed that the new policy will impact the mobility of students in the border regions that have substantive language differences (such as the German-Dutch border or the border with Wallonia). Furthermore, the implementation of the two-third Dutch language policy might interfere with the target languages of the EU alliances that are mainly focused on the most spoken languages in the EU among which Dutch hardly takes a top ranking. Our analysis shows that considering the position of the Dutch language in the EU, this new policy might impact the cross-border mobility of students, graduates, and workers. Nonetheless, less effect could be expected in the European Higher Education Area since the European (joint) programs are exempt from the new policy. That being said, no violation of the EU legal measures in promoting collaboration of EU member states in education could be foreseen through this Act. It is also expected that universities in the Dutch border regions will be impacted more seriously than their competitors in the rest of the country due to their social and economic ties with the neighboring countries.
We tried to also take a comparative approach to the internationalization strategies at other border-region universities in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. The evaluation of their strategies shows that even though in many instances these universities were offering higher education in another language than English (Belgium: French and/or Dutch and/or German, Germany: German, Luxembourg: German and French), they were able to retain a good proportion of cross-border students while keeping the educational standard and development index high. This data is interesting for the Netherlands to see how the new policy can still guarantee its position in the border regions and maintain its ties with the neighboring countries. Furthermore, it is also interesting to know that in the Meuse-Rhine Euregio, Germany has taken a more welcoming approach toward the internationalization in education and Belgium is also trying to introduce more English programs at the bachelor’s programs. This might mean that other universities across the border could expect to attract more cross-border students considering the attractiveness of the language of instruction and their policies on welcoming and retaining more talents.