A 54% increase in foreign students in Dutch higher education over the past four years has prompted calls from political parties on the right and left for the introduction of quotas, and specifically for the allocation of places through a government lottery.
The number of foreign students has risen by 19,000 since 2006 to 54,500. Over the same period, the share of allotted lottery places in medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine going to foreign students rose from 9.3% to 18.3%.
Following reports that foreign students are costing the government EUR100 million (US$137 million), the liberal VVD, which is currently in the coalition government with the social democrats CDA, the right-wing PVV, which supports the coalition, and the left-wing SP have all stated that foreign students are too expensive, Dutch newspapers Volkskrant and NRC Handelsblad reported.
The PVV and SP argued that there ought to be a quota of foreign students admitted by lottery.
The Netherlands does not limit the number of students that can be admitted - a numerus clausus system - to very attractive study places, for instance in medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine, as in many other European countries. Instead, since 2000 it has been operating a weighted lottery system - numerous fixus - based on a combination of secondary school grades and a lottery draw.
The examination of qualifications and the lottery are undertaken by a government agency, DUO - Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs (Education Service Department).
The principle of the weighted system is that the higher the average final exam results, the higher the chance of getting a place. There are five lottery classes, A to E. Class A is the maximum score for students with an average mark of eight or higher, who gain direct admission and so do not have to participate in the lottery.
Students with an average mark between 7.5 and 8 are placed in category B, those with an average mark between 7 and 7.5 go to category C, and so on. Chances of gaining a place decrease for each class.
Under the system, if 80% of the candidates in category B are assigned a place, then 53% of the applicants in category C will be assigned a place, 36% in category D, and 27% in category E. Foreign students are placed in category C, and there is an additional, flexible, Dutch language requirement.
The regulations are described in detail on the DUO's website.
There are two types of quotas: the study quota and the institution quota. Courses with study quotas are national, and occur when more students apply than there are places available. DUO then allocates a place, trying as much as possible to keep the future student's preference in mind. These quota courses are offered at universities, particulary in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science.
In 2010-11, a sharp increase occurred in studies with a national programme, but not for courses with institutions applying the quota to specific study programmes. These quotas are found at both universities and colleges (hogescholen or universities for applied sciences), for example in journalism and physiotherapy.
In statements, the Technical University of Delft said that the reason why there were so many foreign admissions was because the admission was not competitive.
This was "because Holland has quite a socialist view when it comes to education, which means that everyone who wants to learn and qualifies for it may be given the right to study," the university's publicity material says. "That's why in Holland grades are secondary when getting university admission."
The Dutch higher education system faces serious capacity problems. Therefore it is expected that the number of courses with a numerus fixus will rise.
This year the Netherlands has 656,000 students. That number will increase by 35% by 2020, according to the ministry of higher education.
Undersecretary of Education Halbe Zijlstra said recently that he believed selection was a useful tool for courses with capacity problems. At the same time, pressure is mounting to change to selection based on excellence, like grades and motivation, instead of a lottery. Some Dutch universities are already allowed to do this.
This would represent a major change to the Dutch education system, which is based on the view that everyone should have equal chance for admission. It was a taboo to talk about selection for a long time. But it seems that it is beginning to change.
Hans de Wit, professor of internationalisation of education at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, University of Applied Sciences and co-editor of the Journal of Studies in International Education, told University World News the system was never intended to encourage an increase foreign student numbers.
But neither was it able to keep international students out.
He said the increase in foreign students admitted via the lottery was influenced by two factors: a general increase of international students in Dutch higher education and a specific increase in those fields where in the home countries of international students there is also a lottery, such as medicine in Germany.
Today foreign students make up 10% of the total student body in Dutch universities and 6.5% in universities of applied sciences, with increased flows from neighbouring countries, particularly Germany, increasing the burden on Dutch taxpayers, he said.
But the issue of controlling foreign admissions to very attractive courses was also causing concern in other European countries, notably Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Scotland, de Wit said.
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