Debate: Omtzigt wants Dutch language back at technical universities as well

Rob Jetten provided some counterweight during the EenVandaag debate.
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Geert Wilders (PVV) and Pieter Omtzigt (NSC) want Dutch-spoken bachelors back at technical universities. This opinion was voiced during the EenVandaag election debate last night. Rob Jetten (D66) offered some counterweight.

Before an audience of 1800 students and facilitated by host Pieter Jan Hagens, the party leaders debated such issues as migration. But family reunification, the issue that caused the cabinet to fall, was barely mentioned.

Pieter Omtzigt (NSC) focused on international students as soon as he had the opportunity to do so. ‘Forty per cent of the available spots at universities are taken up by international students. As of this year, if they work just one day per week, we provide them with a basic grant. And that means that these spots and that student housing -which amounts to 120 thousand rooms- are not available.’

Student housing

Rob Jetten (D66) shifted the issue. ‘There is a lack of student housing in many university cities, so we must construct more student housing to ensure that students, whether Dutch or international, have a roof over their heads.’

‘I visited many university cities last week’, Jetten continued, ‘and when I tell students that some parties aim to ban all English-spoken bachelors in favour of education in Dutch, they respond by telling me they opt for an English-spoken curriculum with the express purpose of meeting international talent.’

‘Stop for a while’

The facilitator asked Geert Wilders: ‘What would you tell these students?’. Wilders: ‘In Dutch or in English? As far as we are concerned, it is time to stop for a while. Teaching in Dutch is the most important now.’ He sees Dutch language universities as ‘completely normal.’

Omtzigt agreed. ‘This debate was announced on the website only in English and not in Dutch’, he remarked, referring to the website of the study association that organised the debate in collaboration with EenVandaag. ‘How far have we taken things? Come on, we have the Dutch language here, and that is valuable.’

He reiterated that he feels bachelor programmes should be in Dutch, including at technical universities. ‘If you give away forty per cent of the available spots at technical universities to international students and say, “We face a shortage of engineers in the future”, you should not complain. We are the class fool within Europe.’ His implied reasoning is that international students oust Dutch students and leave after graduating.

‘Foolish policy’

Omtzicht remains annoyed over basic student grants for international students. ‘Having some measure of openness is great, but providing a basic and additional grant, which are added to the child support provided for children from Belgium and Germany… while teaching in English while many Dutch students cannot find a spot or housing at the university is foolish policy.’

Dilan Yeşilgöz (VVD) did not disagree, although her party favours an exception for technical universities and wants to allow them to keep teaching bachelor programmes in English. During the debate, she stated that the number of international students must be reduced. ‘Not because we have anything against international students, but rather because we see that there is a severe shortage in the housing market. We must build more, but there is no keeping up with the current influx.’

Employment market

The majority of the international students return to their native country after graduating, she stated. ‘That means that their knowledge and expertise are lost, while we need it in our employment market. So it is not about one-liners such as “welcome one and all” but about the question of what is best for the country.’

She wants fewer international students and a focus on admitting students for ‘programmes and jobs we really need here’. And she wants to ensure that the students proceed to accept positions in the Netherlands, ‘That is what it is all about.’

Frans Timmermans (GroenLinks-PvdA) and Caroline van der Plas (BBB) did not join this round in the debate, which focused on immigration, just as Yeşilgöz and Omtzigt did not join the round that honed in on climate. Just four party leaders joined for each of the topics.

Loan system

Right at the end of the debate, the loan system was discussed for a short while. Omtzigt underscored how much easier it was to study three decades ago. Van der Plas called for more focus on the mental health of young adults, which she claims is partially the result of the loan system: ‘Financial stress has a way of becoming internalised.’

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