Earlier this year the Dutch Modern Migration Act came into force, having ‘selectivity’ as its key word: “this means that the policy is inviting to migrants for whom there is an economic need and that it is restricting to others.” Therefore it was not surprising that last week the Dutch Minister of Education presented the action plan ‘make it in the Netherlands’, which aims at making it more attractive for foreign students to stay here after the completion of their study. During their studies these students cost the Netherlands a lot of money and they often leave after finishing their education. If instead of leaving directly they were to stay here and work for a while, this could reinforce the Dutch economy and the costs of their studies could be recovered. Since especially in technical sectors there is lack of highly educated Dutch people, students with these degrees would be most welcome to stay. But although the action plan contains various suggestions to make this happen, the Minister acknowledged during the official presentation that the best incentive for foreigners to stay here was not included: “the best thing would be if they fall in love. Then they will stay.”
So to all Dutch students: hook up with a foreigner doing a technical study!
The action plan was particularly interesting to read in light of the latest book by Paul Collier. In Exodus he looks at the effect of outward migration on poor countries, something often missing in both the public and academic debate. Collier is very much in favour of temporary migration from ‘poor’ countries to rich countries in order to avoid a brain-drain from poor societies. One specific policy recommendation he makes is that rich countries should admit a higher number of students from such poor countries, but should ensure that these students return home after obtaining their degree. After all, “students from poor countries who return home are highly beneficial to those left behind.” Upon their return, these people can help develop their countries using the knowledge and skills they have acquired. And not only that, they have often internalized the fundamental values of a democratic society and will then spread these values further in their home countries.
Or course the idea of linking migration to development is not new. In recent years the topic has received considerable attention in the Netherlands too, but so far hardly any concrete policies have been developed. Awarding grants to students from developing countries under the condition that they return to their countries afterwards could be a relatively cheap and low-key way of using migration to innovate Dutch development aid. Moreover, this will help to fuel the sorely desired internationalisation of Dutch higher education and can create valuable relationships with the emerging countries of the future. Although, speaking of relationships: it does mean that the Minister’s action plan needs some further refinement - or selectivity for that part - and should not aim at students from certain countries.
So once again to all Dutch students: hook up with a foreigner doing a technical study!
But not one from a poor country please.