Just before Christmas, Minister of Education, Culture and Science Robbert Dijkgraaf issued an ‘urgent appeal’ to all university governing bodies to stop actively recruiting international students. I hold Dijkgraaf in high regard and I think his decisions as a minister so far have shown that he is a real scientist who usually comes up with sensible policies.
But this call came in for a lot of criticism and I too was rather amazed by its tone and content. But when I dug a bit deeper, it soon became clear to me that this wasn’t what our minister really wanted.
The criticism of Dijkgraaf should have been addressed to parliament
Not only was his hand forced by a motion in the Lower House of Parliament, but he had advised against that very motion at an earlier stage. The minister further wrote:
‘On Friday 9 December, I informed the Lower House that I wanted to comply with the motion, but that the institutions had also asked me to keep some room for customization in the interests of sectors with labour shortages and depopulating regions. I proposed to the House – even though this meant leaving more scope than the motion offers in its current form – to leave scope for recruitment for regional sectors with a shortage.’
In translation, this Hague-speak clause ‘even though this meant leaving more scope than the motion offers in its current form’ reads: ‘Dear House, your motion is short-sighted, so I am trying to make the best of it by adding something of my own.’ The minister’s addition offers governing bodies a wild card with which they can ignore the ‘urgent’ recommendation.
It is much too convenient for the Lower House to blame all the problems with academic workload, financial incentives and housing issues in the big cities on international students. The criticism of Dijkgraaf should have been directed at the House. Dijkgraaf is trying to make the best of it by explicitly broadening the discussion to ask the question: what direction does higher education in the Netherlands want to take? Fortunately, the Physics professor turns out to be a skilful politician, and higher education is going to benefit from that.
Guido Camps (39) is a vet and a researcher at Human Nutrition and OnePlanet. He enjoys baking, beekeeping and unusual animals.