Storm Clouds Over Dutch Higher Education: Impact of Far-Right Victory on Universities

Amidst a political landscape shift in the Netherlands, concerns arise over the potential ramifications on higher education. The unexpected surge of far-right parties could reshape policies, impacting international students and the scientific community.

As far-right parties gain unexpected traction in the Netherlands, the ramifications extend beyond political arenas into the academic landscape. The recent victory of the Party for Freedom (PVV) and its leader, Geert Wilders, has sparked apprehensions within the scientific community about the potential impact on education, research, and international collaboration.

The Threat to Internationalization:

The PVV's manifesto sends ripples through Dutch universities, with a call to restrict internationalization. A Wilders-led government could impose severe restrictions on international students, comprising 15% of the university population. The proposal to eliminate English-language undergraduate courses raises concerns about the quality of education and financial challenges for institutions.

Vinod Subramaniam, President of the University of Twente, highlights the potential consequences: "Our Dutch students learn a lot from their international peers." The fear is that stringent measures may result in an exodus of English-speaking staff and foreign students, impacting the diversity and richness of the academic environment.

Challenges to Scientific Collaboration:

Wilders's anti-European Union stance, advocating for a "Nexit," poses a threat to scientific collaboration and funding. Dutch scientists have excelled in securing funds from the EU's Horizon Europe scheme, and an exit could curtail these opportunities. Marileen Dogterom, President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, emphasizes, "Knowledge doesn't stop at the border," highlighting the potential harm to Dutch students and academics' ability to engage globally.

Environmental Policies Under Scrutiny:

The PVV's stance on environmental policies adds another layer of concern. Proposing to abandon climate policies aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions and focusing solely on adaptation measures raises questions about the nation's commitment to sustainability. Eliminating measures to reduce nitrogen emissions may also impact ongoing debates within the agricultural sector.

The Uncertain Horizon:

While the PVV's manifesto lacks specificity on science-related policies, the potential coalition partners express optimism about the value of research. The Dutch Research Council's Marcel Levi remains hopeful, stating, "Investing in science is an investment that pays for itself." However, Wilders's tendency to dispute facts and frame experts as part of an opposing elite introduces an element of uncertainty.

As the Netherlands navigates coalition negotiations, the international academic community watches closely, hoping that the values of openness, diversity, and collaboration will remain steadfast. Vinod Subramaniam's reassurance, "You belong here. You are welcome," echoes the sentiments of universities striving to preserve the essence of education and research in a changing political landscape.