It is much easier for the child of a doctor to get a place at college or university than it is for the child of a road worker, even if they are equally smart. This is evident from the recently published report, ‘The State of Education’. This problem is not unique to the Netherlands, acknowledges the Inspectorate of Education, but the disparity is greater here than in other countries and this trend is rapidly increasing.

Greater inequality

In 2008, 70 per cent of disadvantaged students and 72 per cent of non-disadvantaged students were eventually admitted to higher education institutions. According to the report, the difference was much bigger in 2015; when 60 percent of disadvantaged students went on to study compared to 69 per cent of non-disadvantaged children.

Concerned reactions

In principle, the Education Inspectorate does not make any political statements but, in the foreword to the report, General Inspector Monique Vogelzang writes that she was ‘shocked by the differences in opportunities’.

Politicians have also expressed their concerns. ‘Undesirable’, said Minister Bussemaker and State Secretary Dekker in their first reactions. “Talent and motivation should be the starting point for choosing your school, not the income or level of education of your parents.”

Student organisations ISO and LSVb are more aggressive in their response and attribute the cause of the problem to the new system. According to the LSVb chairman, Stefan Wirken, ‘the research shows just how dangerous measures such as the student loan system and selection are’.


The inspectorate fears that there is no quick solution to fix this problem. Even at primary school, teachers often give students of low-educated parents the advice to follow a lower-level secondary education path than their results in the final examinations would indicate, while children of highly educated parents are often advised to follow a higher-level secondary education path. These differences have also increased over the last few years.

‘Shadow education’

Once at high school, highly educated, wealthy parents send their children more often to a tutor and examination training; the so-called ‘shadow education’. They are also more likely to look for medical grounds if their children are not able to keep up.

The increasing amount of selection in higher education breeds inequality. Fewer students make the step from MBO to HBO because that route has become more difficult, and the stream of students from HBO to university is also slowing. These measures are unfavourable for late bloomers, who are often students with lower educated parents.

Intake restriction

In addition, more and more programmes are setting intake restrictions. In 2014, roughly one third of first-year university students and a quarter of higher professional education first-year students (HBO) were selected for their programme. Five years earlier, those figures were still at 25 and 19 per cent.

The Education Inspectorate warns against self-selection: programmes that announce intake restrictions immediately attract fewer men and students from a non-Western background, while the number of students with high final examination grades is increasing. The inspectorate is concerned that some students unjustifiably fear that they are not good enough to be admitted.

“The State of Education” is published every year. It is a comprehensive report with facts and figures about the Dutch education system.