Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
9th Dec 2021

Netherlands continues to attract more foreign students alongside calls for enrolment caps

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • More than half of international students want to stay in the Netherlands after their higher education programmes are over, with this rising to 59% among non-EU students
  • Dutch universities are “bursting at the seams” partly because of international student enrolments rising, and many want to put curbs on recruiting these students

The majority of international student graduates of Dutch universities surveyed recently by Nuffic say they are likely to stay in the country after their studies. The survey was conducted among 409 international students who recently graduated from a Dutch higher education institution or will graduate before the end of the year.

Desire to stay varies by student segment

Students’ likelihood of staying back changes depending on where they are from and whether they have been studying online from their own country because of COVID. Less than half (46%) of those who have been studying online plan to live in the Netherlands compared with 60% among those who were able to complete at least part of their degree in the Netherlands.

Students from outside the EEA were less likely than those from outside Europe to say they intend to stay after graduation (45% versus 59%).

Pandemic not affecting the stay rate

Currently, the “stay rate” of international students who remain in the Netherlands (versus returning to their homes) is 50% one year after studies are completed and 25% five years after graduation, according to Statistics Netherlands (CBS).

About half of students surveyed by Nuffic said that COVID had not influenced their decision about whether to remain in the Netherlands. As for the remainder, 25% said that the pandemic has made them less inclined to stay and 25% said it had made them more likely to stay and live in the Netherlands.

Job opportunities the major draw

Students from outside the EEA were particularly intent on staying in the Netherlands, with one respondent from Kenya explaining,

“It offers me greater possibilities, not only in terms of health care, but in the job market as well. The pandemic was very detrimental to the job market in my home country, which means there are more opportunities for my future in the Netherlands.”

Students were more divided about the Dutch government’s approach to COVID. One student said and that Dutch people, while friendly, were too attached to their individual freedoms and reluctant to follow safety precautions that would help to reduce COVID’s spread in the country. Another said that the government’s “strong response” to the pandemic as well as his belief that work experience in the Netherlands would help his career heighten his drive to remain in the country.

Packed campuses and insufficient housing

The tight housing market in major Dutch cities is definitely a problem, with one French student saying it was “horrible.” The lack of capacity in the housing market is one reason that many higher education stakeholders in the country are pressing for less recruitment of international students.

There has been a 4% increase in enrolments this fall in Dutch universities (over 340,000 in 2021/22), and much of the increase can be attributed to international students, who make up 23% of the total student population (29% at the undergraduate level – up 5% over two years).

Geert ten Dam, president of the University of Amsterdam, told Times Higher Education that,

“In concrete terms, our campuses are bursting at the seams. There are too few lecture halls for teaching. There is also a large and increasing housing shortage in Amsterdam.”

This fall, hundreds of international students could not secure accommodation, and many could not find emergency housing as a backup. Most rooms and apartments are taken by Dutch students and there are reports of discriminatory behaviour by landlords who will not rent to international students. Overall, there is a shortage of 26,000 homes and the situation is expected to worsen in coming years.

The Dutch Review paints a bleak picture of what students are experiencing as they pursue higher education degrees:

“For at least the last five years, the start of each academic term at any Dutch university has been marred by overcrowded hallways, split lecture halls, and students frantically trying to secure housing (some winding up in old prisons, containers, and even tents!).”

Leading universities are calling on the government to allow them more control over international enrolments and recruitment, and prominent politicians are also calling for caps on the number of foreign students – especially non-EU students – in Dutch institutions. Others believe that foreign enrolments can be stemmed by increasing tuition fees for international students.

At the moment, the Nuffic research suggests that the majority of international students have had a satisfying enough time in the Netherlands to want to stay, but new foreign students may find a less open environment than in the past given industry and political pressure to reduce their presence on university campuses.

For additional background, please see:

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