On the one hand the university welcomes international students with open arms and creates an internationally friendly environment. But once the students step outside of the safe campus, they hear voices grumbling about the increasing number of international students. The arguments sound dangerously like the ones against immigrants. Are international students a next target of an anti-immigration mood in the Netherlands?
They don’t integrate
Once the international students, especially the degree-seekers, arrive in the Netherlands, they are expected to blend into the Dutch society. Sander van den Eijnden, head of the Dutch organization for internationalization of higher education (Nuffic) expressed his disappointment in an interview with Volkskrant: “Foreign students are on the edge of society because they neither integrate, nor speak Dutch.” Most of them don’t, but the question is whether it is necessary. Jan Blommaert, a professor from the Department of Culture Studies, reacts: “Why would they do that? They stay here for the length of the program, usually without planning to live here afterwards.” According to Blommaert, learning Dutch should be expected from immigrants applying for citizenship, but not from international students. “There is even a policy of European Union stressing that foreign students shouldn’t be given the status of an ethnic minority,” says Blommaert. For Harrie Verbon from Tilburg School of Economics and Management, learning Dutch is an important part of integration, but speaking English is enough. “The Dutch speak English very well, which makes it a sufficient tool for integration. You can’t ask international students to learn Dutch if they are here only temporarily, although those who want to be a real part of the Dutch society accept that challenge.”
Blommaert also doesn’t agree with the statement that international students are not integrated in the society. He says: “They are here for a specific purpose revolving around well-defined activities, such as going to lectures and socializing. They acquire all integration skills they need to participate in the areas in which they are supposed to. It’s unrealistic to expect anything more.”
When we think about the problem of integration between domestic and international students, the necessity to learn Dutch is the most obvious solution that springs to mind. However, that might not be the answer. Hans-George van Liempd, Senior Program Manager at Tilburg University, sees the solution in the university itself. “The classroom has a potential to solve the difficulties of integration, if we put more emphasis on academic cooperation. If students of different nationalities work together, it is more likely that they will also spend time on a daily basis,” says Van Liempd.
They take our rooms
Eric Lucassen from Party for Freedom PVV said in an interview with nu.nl that the number of foreign students in the Netherlands should be limited, because there is a shortage of student rooms. His perception very much resembles the anti-immigration argument that the foreigners take the places of the Dutch. According to Verbon, the argument does not apply to international students: “It is workers who compete for jobs and houses, not students. If there is a shortage of student rooms, it is not a solution to discriminate students from abroad. An alternative is to limit the total number of students, both international and domestic, by restricting entry requirements.” Apart from that, housing shortage shouldn’t be an excuse to shut the university doors. The problem is already tackled by projects such as the Tilburg Talent Square, which will offer 700 extra apartments and rooms.
They don’t contribute
Another problem with international students seems to be that because they are not well integrated into the society, “they do not contribute to the local economy,” said Van den Eijnden in an interview for Volkskrant. This argument becomes much weaker when you think about student everyday life. Blommaert says: “They rent rooms, eat in the restaurants, take a bus, go to see the movies, buy groceries… What is contribution to the local economy if not this?” Chinese students don’t only dine in Chinese restaurants, nor do they rent rooms from Chinese owners. Thus, the money circulates within in the country though the hands of Dutch owners and companies.
They cost us money
Up until now, European students who work at least eight hours per week can apply for study grants. For many of them this opportunity, along with the loan, is the main source of funding their studies. However, the State Secretary Zijlstra plans to increase the requirement from eight to fourteen hours a week. The argument is that the rules for Dutch students are getting stricter, so it’s only fair to restrict financial benefits for foreign students as well. According to the VSNU, such measure is counterproductive and it will significantly slow the study pace. Blommaert also disagrees with Zijstra’s measure: “I myself wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for a system of welfare and higher education subsidies. Changing this system will result in excluding many excellent students.” The lack of financial pressure for students is one of the main advantages of studying in the Netherlands. “If we lose this advantage, we’re shooting ourselves in a foot,” says Blommeart. For Van Liempd it is a question of a well-defined strategy: “There is a contradiction in the government’s position. On the one hand Zijlstra sees a potential in China, but on the other makes domestic rules stricter for international students. The government lacks a broad internationalization policy.”
Jan Blommaert, himself being a knowledge migrant, makes a clear distinction between general immigration figures and the increase in the number of international students. “The days of attracting immigrants are certainly over. Migration in the Netherlands is effectively discouraged and regulated.” Nonetheless, the so-called smart migration is increasingly important. It is crucial for the universities to attract and invest in international students. “Foreign students shouldn’t be seen as migrants! The politicians should approach student mobility as an economic opportunity, and not as a sociological nightmare,” says Blommaert.
Published: Univers no. 11, April 12, 2012