Attracting unqualified international students should not be the goal of pre-bachelor's programmes, says the Dutch Minister of Education. Photo: Shutterstock

Minister denounces misuse of preparatory programmes for internationals

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Universities and universities of applied sciences should use the transition year to get promising international students up to speed with their language skills, not to recruit internationals with insufficient qualifications, wrote the Dutch Minister of Education Ingrid van Engelshoven in a letter to political party CDA.

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Costing between 12,000 and 18,000 euro, pre-bachelor's programmes are aimed at candidates who do not yet meet all eligibility criteria to follow a bachelor’s programme. For years, Dutch higher education institutions have offered such preparatory programmes of half a year or a whole year. This is permitted, as long as the academic institution determines in advance that the student meets almost all the requirements and is committed to filling the gaps in the foreseeable future.

Barely admissible
Last year, a series of articles (in Dutch) published by Onderwijsblad, the educational journal of trade union General Union of Educational Personnel (AOb), showed that the reality is often different. Hundreds of international students are recruited every year via such programmes and are prepared for university and universities of applied sciences with varying degrees of success.

Five Dutch universities (Twente, Tilburg, Rotterdam, UvA and VU Amsterdam) and three universities of applied sciences (HvA, Hanze and The Hague) are working closely with three private agencies to recruit international students for these programmes, according to an investigation (document in Dutch) concluded in June by the national commission that oversees compliance with the code of conduct in higher education.

In practice, the agencies are the ones verifying the eligibility of those international students, not the institutions, writes the minister. They also administer and assess the midterm tests during the expensive transition year.

Sometimes international students have a school diploma equivalent to three or five years of HAVO (senior general secondary education), which prepares Dutch students for universities of applied sciences, but not for universities. That means large gaps need to be filled. The Dutch Education Inspectorate will examine whether it is permitted to allow these students conditional entry to a university or university of applied sciences. According to the minister, if the preparatory year becomes “a means of recruiting additional international students who are not yet admissible’’, it is at odds with the spirit of the law and the code of conduct.

Residence permit
The minister is particularly critical of the University of Amsterdam and VU Amsterdam, who, during the preparatory year, enrol international students from outside Europe in a programme other than their first preference. They do that when the students’ preferred programme has an enrolment restriction or selection procedure, in which case the admission of international students cannot be guaranteed after the preparatory year.

However, that guarantee is a strict requirement of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) for granting a residence permit. Those international students are therefore enrolled in a related programme that does not have a selection process just so that their admission is guaranteed.

According to the minister, UvA's operating procedure “conflicts with the duty of care that educational institutions have under the Aliens Act”. There is “at least improper use of the preparatory year”.

She will consult with the umbrella organisations on the “next steps”. They will be discussed on December 3 during a general consultation with the parliament on the internationalisation of higher education in the Netherlands.

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