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Industry very worried about inflow reduction of international students

14 March 2024

Large companies are very worried about plans by some political parties in the House of Representatives [1] to provide much less English-language education and drastically reduce the number of international students. This is the outcome of a study executed by SEO Economic Research on behalf of the Dutch Economics and Business faculties.   

The study interviewed representatives from 20 companies and industry associations. These companies included Philips, Unilever, Friesland Campina, Tomtom, Ayden and EY. According to most companies, international students are desperately needed to keep the economy going, given the tight labour market and increasing ageing population. Some companies are even considering further growth outside the Netherlands, not only in ICT and technology but also in (business) economic jobs, such as accountants, financial controllers, logistics managers, product managers, data analysts, etc.

English language education essential to international knowledge economy

One of the companies indicates that less English-language education sets the Netherlands back 30 years back in time. English-language education for economists and business experts is precisely what companies need because the language of communication at very many large international operating companies is English, and the environment is international. English-language education is, therefore, of great importance for Dutch graduates. The Netherlands is not an island, but part of an international knowledge economy.

Companies are additionally concerned about the adverse effect of the measures on the quality of research. This reduces the attractiveness of the Netherlands for companies. The concerns expressed in the report match the critical comments made by the CEOs of ASML and NXP, among others [2].

Ingrid Thijssen, president of VNO-NCW, has also been asked for a response: "I am pleased that this report is here. Being able to attract international talent in sufficient numbers, especially in technical and business studies and professions, is extremely important for the future earning capacity of our country. There is a global battle for talented people going on. It is important to realize that."


The study further reveals that international students are good for the treasury. The additional tax and premium revenue from international graduates who stay in the Netherlands (even after deducting their use of health care and social security) is greater than government expanditure on international students. According to the study, the benefits would further increase if more students stay here after their studies. Now, about 30 - 40 percent stay. Companies see opportunities to increase the stay rate of international students through internships and are already actively working on this. Universities also see opportunities to increase the chance of staying, among other things by increasing the Dutch language skills of international students.  

The SEO study also shows that reducing the number of international students has little effect on housing prices in the Netherlands. The reason is that student shortages and waiting lists are relatively limited compared to, for example, social housing. Moreover, the housing needs of students (small rooms), are very different from those of families, for example.

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SEO report on the effects of fewer international students Economics and Business

Deans: “Take businesses seriously.”

The deans of the participating faculties feel that SEO's research indicates that the Netherlands need international programs, students and staff. The Education Council also indicates that developments in the world and Dutch society call for internationalisation of education. English language skills are very important for Dutch students in economics and business.

The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) shows that two-thirds of the income that Dutch employees earn from global production and trade in goods comes from professional service activities (including business administration, marketing and financial professionals) [3]. Therefore, the business community's response should be taken very seriously because the attractiveness of the Netherlands and structural economic growth opportunities are under pressure.

Resolve bottlenecks

At the same time, in line with the vision of Universities in the Netherlands (UNL), deans realise that the growth in international student intake also creates bottlenecks. The funding model in higher education and developments such as Brexit has led to a large growth in international students. These bottlenecks must be resolved, and the various faculties want to cooperate. Many faculties already currently offer Dutch-language courses in business administration and economics, and, as proposed by UNL, with the help of Dutch and English-language variants, the number of international students can be managed. This requires universities to be legally able to put a numerus fixus on an English-language variant of a program. The House of Representatives recently created that possibility, and the deans hope the Senate will agree.

This responds to an observation by one of the interviewees that quality may come under pressure in major programs. The deans also have concerns about the quality of education when the political parties' plans are to be implemented. Indeed, in the domain of Economics & Business, it is not easy to find sufficiently qualified Dutch-speaking staff. If more lectures are to be given in Dutch, it will require a large amount of structural time and financial investment to teach international lecturers Dutch now and in the future. In addition, recruiting talent will become more difficult. “Unfortunately, our international colleagues in the Netherlands already feel less at home. We deeply regret this”, according to the Deans.

Prosperity in the Netherlands depends heavily on the design of our institutions and companies. Therefore, the deans of Economics & Business have developed a strategy to contribute to societal challenges, such as digitalization, a healthy society, the tight labour market and a sustainable economy.

In short, English-language education is essential for being relevant and properly preparing students for the Dutch labour market [4].

Read the full report here (in Dutch only).

Last modified:14 March 2024 12.41 p.m.
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