Market Snapshot: The Netherlands

Although The Netherland’s ambitions for an international education sector continue to rely heavily on students from Germany, the country is showing signs of increasing diversity. Read on to learn how the international student landscape in The Netherlands is changing, what the Dutch government is doing to drive that change forward, and how a trend among Dutch students is causing concern in Belgium.

German growth decreases…

Nuffic – an organisation heavily involved in the formulation of Dutch international student recruitment policy – has recently released a major report on international student mobility around the world, and the effect of mobility trends on The Netherlands.

Together with Nuffic’s 2011 report on international student recruitment policy, which ICEF Monitor reported on earlier this year, this information provides a fairly comprehensive view of The Netherland’s position in the international education sector.

In autumn 2011, almost 1,000 German students began a programme of study at a Dutch institution, raising the total number of Germans studying a full degree programme in The Netherlands to 25,000 – out of a total of 56,000 international students overall.

Among the different nationalities studying in The Netherlands, the next largest increase was recorded among Greek students: 1,414 students from Greece studied a full degree in The Netherlands in 2011, up 400 students from the past year.

These numbers illustrate the extent to which German students continue to dominate the international student landscape in The Netherlands; however, various developments suggest that this state of affairs is beginning to change.

Concern among Dutch officials about the number of Germans studying in The Netherlands shows no sign of abatement. The government has yet to decide on the introduction of quotas, a possibility raised in late 2011. However, the Dutch education secretary Halbe Zijlstra announced in May that Dutch education institutions will be expected to cease offering programmes catering to German students specifically.

It appears that Austria has replaced The Netherlands as the destination of choice for young Germans; this change in preference has had a clear impact on enrolment in The Netherlands, where the number of German students beginning a degree programme fell by 50% between 2010 and 2011.

…and students from other nations step in

But as the number of German students who decide to study in The Netherlands decreases, overall enrolment numbers in the country have continue to grow, revealing that students from other nations are compensating for the change in taste among young Germans.

Since the rise of tuition fees in the UK, The Netherlands has seen an influx of students from Britain, but in particular, Nuffic has noted the arrival of a growing number of degree students from the so-called NESO target countries (Netherlands Education Support Offices); these are countries that have drawn the attention of Dutch policymakers as a potential source of students for the Dutch higher education sector.

NESO target countries include:

  • Brazil
  • China
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Mexico
  • Russia
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

Results have shown their targeted efforts are working – between 2007 and 2012, the number of resident permits issued to students from NESO target countries grew from 2,500 to 10,500.

The number of students from India, South Korea, and Mexico doubled, but the growth was mainly lead by Chinese students, whose numbers increased by 1,000 students in the period specified. This could perhaps be fuelled by The China Programme, which focuses on Chinese students who want to study or do research in The Netherlands for at least one academic year during or after their studies in China.

Chinese students come to The Netherlands primarily to study bachelor’s programmes in economics; South Koreans prefer English-language programmes, while Indian and Mexican students share a preference for master’s programmes in engineering.

According to Nuffic, the rise in the number of students from NESO target countries is due mainly to economic and demographic developments in the countries of origin. These are countries where the population is young and the economy is growing, producing a large number of youth interested in studying abroad and capable of carrying the expense. In addition, these students are increasingly prepared to study in a wider variety of countries, a development that has benefited The Netherlands. Finally, they tend to gravitate towards countries offering courses in English, as well as those that offer work or internship abroad opportunities, all of which The Netherlands is well known for doing.

Nuffic also attributes the rise in enrolment to the work of NESO offices, recently established in these countries, which promote The Netherlands as a study destination.

Student recruitment through collaboration

Besides the establishment of NESO offices, the Dutch government has taken further steps to attract talented students to The Netherlands.

An ongoing concern for the Dutch government is the recruitment and retention of highly skilled workers and researchers.

Nuffic’s reports found a correlation between international graduate student recruitment and international research collaboration.

These reports also observed that many developing countries are eager to collaborate with education institutions abroad in order to improve their domestic education sector.

Echoing these suggestions, the Dutch government has begun to urge Dutch higher education institutions to form collaborative agreements with institutions abroad. It has also laid the legal foundation for Dutch institutions to establish branch campuses abroad.

This push has resulted in early returns, as a growing number of Dutch higher education institutions have sought and received accreditation for international joint degree programmes.

However, Nuffic warns that successful international collaboration – including the benefits it provides for research and graduate recruitment – requires long term commitment, including sufficient funding, which the Dutch government has proven unwilling to provide so far, which the latest round of budget cuts testifies.

The sting of budget cuts

The Dutch government has decided to convert the €246 monthly scholarship into a loan, depriving students of the support they previously received and burdening those students who do accept the loan with an additional €3000 in debt per year. The government also plans to scratch the free transit pass that was previously offered to students.

“There are 600,000 students in The Netherlands and they face €1 billion of budget cuts,” said Jan van ‘t Westende, chair of umbrella student organisation the National Chamber of Associations, or LKvV.

The Higher Education Board, which represents universities of applied sciences, calculated that there would be 15,000 fewer students because of the cuts.

The lure of study abroad

Current figures show that only 2.9% of Dutch students study abroad, which lags behind the European average (3.3%) – a fact that Nuffic explains by reference to the favourable conditions of study in The Netherlands and high rankings of universities.

However, Nuffic’s data show that the number of Dutch students who study abroad is growing in increasing numbers, and that trend is likely to continue.

In looking at the latest outbound mobility trends, University World News has recently reported a sharp increase in the number of Dutch students studying in Belgium, from around 3,000 in 2008 to 6,000 in 2012.

Belgium is an attractive destination for Dutch students because the tuition is comparatively inexpensive: students enrolled at Belgian institutions pay €578 tuition, as opposed to the €1,771 charged in The Netherlands. Dutch students are also attracted to Belgium because several programmes of study that restrict enrolment in The Netherlands, such as medicine and veterinary science, are open to general enrolment in Belgium.

The rise in students from The Netherlands who study at Belgian institutions has caused concern among some Belgian politicians, who feel that Dutch students are exploiting Belgium for inexpensive tuition – each Dutch student costs the Belgian society €10,000 a year in government subsidies.

Some policymakers have even begun considering a quota for Dutch students, which may encourage these students to pursue their studies elsewhere.

What all of these developments point towards is a Dutch national education sector that is attracting and actively recruiting an increasing number of students from beyond the EU – and that is sending an increasing number of students abroad, with the potential and likelihood of sending many more.



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