Harder to join European universities in right-wing countries in 2024

european universities harder to get into
Leader of the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) Geert Wilders, next to PVV member and Dutch MP Fleur Agema (L), celebrates at a post-election meeting at the Nieuwspoort conference center in The Hague on November 23, 2023. Source: AFP

It’s set to be harder for international students to join European universities.

Countries in Europe with nationalist governments are seeking to reduce the number of migrants in their country by cutting their international student intake.

Norway, the Netherlands and the UK have introduced policies that restrict the number of incoming international students seeking to complete a degree.

Last June, the Norwegian parliament passed a law that will see students from outside the EEA, and Switzerland charged for studying in Norway.

“Free education is a welfare good and such welfare provisions should be national and cannot be used by all international students,” wrote Himanshu Gulati, a member of the committee representing the right-wing Progress Party.

The move came just a month after the UK removed the right of postgraduate students to bring their spouse and family members into the country, part of a pledge to reduce the UK’s record-high levels of arrivals.

“We have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependents being brought into the country with visas,” then interior minister Suella Braverman, who belongs in the right of the Conservative Party, said in a statement.

“This is the fair thing to do to allow us to better protect our public services, while supporting the economy by allowing the students who contribute the most to keep coming here.”
european universities harder to get into

International students are turning away from European universities located in countries with hostile immigration rhetoric and policies. Source: AFP

The latest is the Dutch government’s proposal to implement a new Balanced Internationalisation Act, part of a broader package of measures to manage and control internationalisation.

The plan has been submitted to the Education Council for review.

“As a knowledge country, the Netherlands needs international students: we need talent for science, for our labour market and for the educational programmes themselves. I plan to use a joint and well-considered approach in order to strike a balance,” wrote Minister of Education Robbert Dijkgraaf in a letter to parliament on Dec. 21, 2023.

“My goal is to maintain the intrinsic value of internationalisation. This requires balance through accessibility and by considering what society and the institutions can handle. It is very important that tertiary education is and will remain accessible to all citizens of the Netherlands. So we have to take action now. The legislative proposal is intended to allow for thorough, focused and speedy intervention.”

As of last April, there were 115,000 international students in the Netherlands, making up 25% of all students in Dutch higher education and 3.5 times the number that were in the country as of 2005.

Close to half (45%) of international students are pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

To the Dutch government, this increase in the number of international students needs to be “handled” to preserve the quality of education and increase Dutch students’ access to English-taught programmes.

Netherlands’s nationalist Freedom Party (PVV) won the Nov. 22 election, but has yet built a workable coalition to form a government.

PVV has been negotiating with the centre-right VVD of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the centrist upstart NSC and the farmers’ protest party BBB since late November.

Founder of the NSC party Pieter Omtzigt is in favour of stricter immigration rules and campaigned to limit migration to 50,000 people per year.

This includes restricting the number of refugees and international students, the latter by reducing scholarships and limiting English courses at educational institutions.

“Forty percent of the new first-year students at Dutch universities come from abroad and then go back because we teach in English,” said Omtzigt to international journalists last November.

“And this is one way of getting a labour shortage in five to 10 years in crucial sectors because you’ve not actually educated your own population.”

The VVD party also wants to reduce the number of international students and make it mandatory that almost all bachelor’s courses are taught in Dutch, according to NL Times.

european universities harder to get into

From tougher visa rules to higher tuition fees, new policies hostile to non-locals are pushing international students away from European universities. Source: AFP

The appeal of European universities drops

Nearly half of business schools in the UK did not meet their non-EU recruitment targets in 2023, with 22% reporting they were “significantly below” their target enrolment, according to the 2023 Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) Annual Membership Survey.

The report points to the limit on dependant visas as a key reason behind this decline. MBA and Executive Education students are often older and often wish or have to bring their families along with them.

After the introduction of tuition fees, Norwegian universities are seeing a 45% drop in the number of students from outside the EEA countries applying for study visas in Norway, reported Erudera last July.

Hostile immigration policies are expected to impact European universities beyond causing a lower number of international students and reduced diversity on campus.

Vice-chancellors have reportedly said their universities can’t make ends meet and are entering into a financial crisis.

Research, which is partly funded by the premium fees paid by international students, is set to see a drop in funding as well.