A record number of 327,000 students is enrolled in Dutch universities at present, up 8 per cent from last year. Master’s degrees, in particular, have seen a significant increase in enrolments. And despite the coronavirus crisis, many international students from European countries have come to the Netherlands this year to get a degree.

The number of first-year Bachelor’s students enrolled in Dutch universities rose by almost 13 per cent in one year. The number of students entering university straight from Dutch VWO (pre-university) schools was one percentage point higher. Since no nation-wide school-leaving exams were held last year, more pupils than usual were awarded school-leaving certificates. Many of them decided to enrol in an academic degree programme straight away. Another factor that contributed to the higher enrolment figures is the fact that many young people are refraining from taking a gap year during the pandemic, as backpacking in Australia or working as an au pair in Paris is not a very attractive proposition at present.

Erasmus University also saw an increase in its number of Bachelor’s students, although its increase was lower than the national trend. A total of 6,338 new Bachelor’s students enrolled in EUR degree programmes this year, a 7.8 per cent increase on the previous academic year.

Most international students from EEA

Education institutions were unsure for a long time how many international students would make their way to the Netherlands in September. In May 2020, Nuffic (the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education) indicated on the basis of survey results that it feared that a quarter of all non-EEA students would not show up for the degree programmes in which they had enrolled.

However, that turned out not to be the case. Despite the coronavirus restrictions, the overall number of international students attending Dutch universities rose by 13 per cent. It should be noted that this increase is largely due to increased enrolments from students from the EEA. The number of non-European students fell slightly for the first time in years, by 4 per cent.


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After the number of international students attending EUR appeared to have stabilised in recent years, it increased significantly this year. International student enrolments rose by nearly 25 per cent, for both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. As a result, a total of 6,293 international students are currently enrolled in Erasmus University, up 12.7 per cent from last year (5,582).

Another notable trend is the increased number of Master’s students. Across Dutch universities, Master’s degrees have attracted a whopping 19 per cent more students than last year. This may be due to the temporary relaxation of the entry requirements for Master’s degrees, whereby students who were unable to complete their Bachelor’s degrees before the summer holiday due to the coronavirus crisis were provisionally allowed to embark on their Master’s degrees, anyway. The number of Master’s students attending EUR rose significantly (by almost 25 per cent) to 6,860 students.


On the nation-wide level, the largest increase (10 per cent) was in the fields of economics, law, behavioural science & society and nature. Degrees in educational sciences also proved more popular. Last year the number of students enrolling in such programmes decreased, but this year, the enrolment figure rose by 6 per cent.

The increase in student numbers was not entirely due to new enrolments, though. The number of drop-outs was lower than usual, as well. According to the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, this was possibly because universities chose to relax their Year-1 requirements, allowing students to stay on even if they did not obtain the required number of credits in their first year.

Numbers increased again

In other words, universities have become considerably busier places this year. But who will foot the bill for all these people? The coronavirus crisis is putting both academic and support staff under great strain, says VSNU chair Pieter Duisenberg. “Student numbers have risen drastically for years, and now the coronavirus crisis has increased that number again, by a considerable margin.”

VSNU is currently in talks with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, in an effort to ensure that the funding amounts allocated by the government to the various universities are adjusted for the increased enrolment figures more quickly than usual. Normally, budget allocations are not adjusted until two years after the fact.

However, Duisenberg fears that such a one-off measure will not solve the problem of increased enrolment figures in the long term. The government will have to allocate more funding to science permanently. “That is our message to the incoming Cabinet.”

Universities of applied sciences attract more students, too

For their part, Dutch universities of applied sciences, too, have attracted a record number of students (nearly half a million) this year. Some 125,000 first-year students enrolled in universities of applied sciences this year, up 10 per cent from last year. They are mainly drawn to fields that are currently experiencing shortages, such as teaching and healthcare.

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