In higher education, around 10 percent of students currently come from abroad and most of them study at a university. While the majority of these students chose a university of applied sciences in the past, this trend has reversed since 2011. This is mainly due to the increasing popularity of master programmes at universities, where one out of five students is now an international student.


Germans in particular (22,125) find their way into Dutch university lecture halls, followed by Chinese students (4,475) and Italians (4,077). What is striking is that over the past five years, increasingly more Indians, Italians and Spaniards want to obtain a degree in the Netherlands.

They most often choose an economics-related programme at a university or university of applied sciences. Additionally, university of applied sciences fine arts programmes traditionally attract many international students: around one-third of these students come from abroad. Other popular programmes at universities are social sciences and technology-related studies.

Almost a quarter of international students graduating from a Dutch university or university of applied sciences still reside in the Netherlands after five years. That generates somewhere between 1.64 and 2.08 billion euros for the treasury, according to a Nuffic reportpublished last year.



The Netherlands is also becoming more and more popular as a destination for students with an Erasmus Scholarship. Almost 10,000 international students came to the Netherlands in 2016 for one or two semesters through a university or university of applied sciences exchange programme. Another 4,000 students did an internship here. To compare: in 2007 the figures were 7,000 and just under 1,000 respectively.

Large numbers of Dutch students also go abroad for an internship or an exchange. A quarter of all higher-education graduates went to another country as part of their studies. This figure puts the Netherlands well above the European norm of 20 percent for 2020. Norway tops this list: 35 percent of Norwegian students went abroad for an exchange, internship or research project.


Packing their bags

Studying abroad holds a particular appeal for university and university of applied sciences students enrolled in ‘green’ study programmes. Many university master students in technology and natural sciences also pack their bags, usually for an internship abroad. And finally, medical students go to other countries for medical clerkships.

Dutch students most commonly attend prestigious British institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and King’s College London. Belgium is also popular, chiefly for students in medicine and obstetrics who have been confronted with intake restrictions here in the Netherlands.

After years of growth, the number of Dutch students making use of transferable student grants and loans during their stay abroad declined in 2016. Nuffic believes this was caused by the introduction of the student loan system. Nuffic is currently studying the specific effects this measure could potentially have on the number of students obtaining their degree abroad.


“It’s not as relevant for students who go abroad for a semester because that’s often part of the curriculum. But if it’s an extra activity and there’s a chance they could experience a delay in their studies, they might think twice about it,” surmises Nuffic spokeswoman Anne Lutgerink.


In spite of the growing importance for internationalisation in higher education, Nuffic feels that much more progress could be made. For example, only 13 percent of students in university teacher-training programmes have international experience. This figure is even lower for prospective teachers in university of applied sciences teacher-training programmes: 6 percent. Teachers play an important role in the development of the international skills of their students. Nuffic also sees a major challenge in the fact that classes in the Netherlands feature more diversity among students.

Students with parents who have completed higher education are also more likely to acquire experience abroad. They are one-and-a-half times more likely to participate in an exchange programme compared to students with parents who have not completed higher education. “That’s a cause for concern. You want everyone to have this option, regardless of their background,” says Lutgerink. Grants for this specific target group might change that.


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