Last year, the Ministry still thought universities of applied sciences would see about 18,000 fewer students in 2029 compared to now. The latest calculations foresee a reduction by 40,000 students.

And where research universities were previously forecast to recruit an additional 65,000 students, this number in the latest ‘baseline forecast’ has been adjusted to only 23,000.

Too optimistic

For years, the Ministry underestimated the growth in the number of students, particularly at research universities. To the annoyance of research universities and universities of applied sciences, this led to disappointing state budget allocations and to cuts in higher education. The current assessment, however, is that the Ministry was too optimistic last year.

The lower student intake in the current academic year may be related to the introduction of the new basic student grant. More young people took a gap year after their school-leaving examination, rather than going on to high education immediately.

This does not matter for the longer term, however: the Ministry is confident they will eventually find their way to the research universities and universities of applied sciences. The current reduction in numbers has other causes.


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Tight labour market

A more important factor is, for example, that students often leave higher education without a degree certificate, which means there are fewer senior students. While learning deficits due to the COVID-19 pandemic may be an underlying factor, the higher dropout rates could also be due to the allure of the tight labour market.

Because of the tight labour market, students in secondary vocational education find employment faster. As a result, fewer decide to move on to higher professional education. The same effect is seen in research-oriented education: in 2022, fewer bachelor’s students immediately moved on to a master’s programme. The Ministry expects the labour market to remain tight in the coming period.


The predictions remain uncertain. It may be that students who have dropped out will decide to resume their studies at a later point, something the projections do not take into account.

And how many international students will come to the Netherlands? The relevant calculations could use improvement, according to a special committee that monitors the projections. As the committee explains, for its current projections, the Ministry has simply extended the line in the chart (linear extrapolation). According to the committee’s explanation, “This suggests the possibility of limitless growth, which is not realistic.”