The Dutch government released a new strategy for international education in July 2014, built around the idea of expanding student mobility, transnational education initiatives, and international partnerships for Dutch institutions.
Education Minister Jet Bussemaker announced at the time a €5 million-per-year scholarship programme for foreign students, primarily those from non-EU countries, as well as some support for Dutch students studying abroad.
The government has since provided further details of the programme with an update last month that it will provide 768 scholarships of €5,000 each for foreign students, and a corresponding number of scholarships (of €1,250 each) for Dutch students going abroad. Scholarship recipients will be selected by Dutch universities and colleges, which are also sharing in the cost of the programme.
In addition, although it was originally planned to end it, the government will continue the programme which offers students public transport cards giving free travel at certain times of the day, and it will also now be extended to vocational college students.
As we noted last year, the number of foreign students studying in the Netherlands grew by 61% between 2005 and 2012, numbering just under 70,000 in 2011/12 according to official figures from Nuffic.
The majority of students are from the EU, which also accounts for much of the growth in inbound mobility over those several years, but about a third come from non-EU countries.
However, Nuffic, which maintains a network of field offices in nine strategic non-EU markets – including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam – notes that the number of inbound students from those countries has grown more than four-fold in recent years, from 2,500 students in 2007 to 10,500 in 2012.
More recent media reports put the number of foreign students in the Netherlands at more than 80,000 (this suggests that the average rate of growth indicated by the 2005-2012 statistics from Nuffic has more or less continued between 2012 and 2014 as well).
In a related development, research from the website StudyPortals indicates that Dutch universities are the third most-popular European choice among foreign students, particularly those from Germany, Greece, India, the UK, and the US.
The problem with science
Science and technology studies figure prominently in the Dutch plan for internationalisation. However, StudyPortals data suggests that 80% of the foreign students in the Netherlands opt for a non-science subject, while only 15% of Dutch students abroad pursue science and technology degrees. In contrast to that, as many as four in ten foreign students in Germany are enrolled in technical programmes.
Bolstering innovation and employment is a central goal of the country’s expanded international education efforts, but a recent item from Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf points to continued challenges in the IT sector in the Netherlands.
The paper reported earlier this month that software developer UNIT4 was closing its Dutch offices and moving 300 IT jobs to Spain, Portugal, and Poland where, the company says, it is much easier to find qualified technical staff. “Experts fear that this is the starting signal for an exodus of companies. Thus thousands of jobs are at risk in the sector, which is considered the goose that lays the golden eggs for the Netherlands,” adds the report. De Telegraaf notes as well that there were 34,000 openings for IT positions in the Netherlands in 2014.
Connecting the dots
So many unfilled positions in a key sector points to a significant skills gap in the Dutch economy, one that the government seems determined to close through its expanded internationalisation initiatives and investments in innovation research.
While the unemployment rate in the Netherlands declined over 2014, it continues to hover around 8%. The Dutch Daily News adds, “From an international perspective, unemployment in the Netherlands is relatively low, because the unemployment rates in the eurozone and the European Union as a whole were 11.5% and 10.2% respectively in June .” Germany, Austria, and Malta, meanwhile, register the lowest current rates in Europe at approximately 5% each.
Following a period of contraction over 2012 and 2013, the paper notes signs of continuing strength in the Dutch economy, projecting modest growth ranging from 0.8% to 1.5% per year for 2014, 2015, and 2016. Improved consumer and employer confidence – and so increased spending on both fronts – appear to be the major drivers in the improved economic outlook going forward.
The more optimistic forecast bodes well for the country’s ability to sustain and perhaps even extend its expanded internationalisation efforts. The Netherlands intends to not only recruit greater numbers of foreign students but to encourage graduates to stay and contribute to the Dutch economy following their studies. Their success in doing so will bear not only on the immediate fortunes of Dutch institutions and students, but on the longer-term prospects for the country’s economy as well.