The idea that 40 percent of all students in the Netherlands come from abroad has been circulating for some time. Politicians picked up on this figure when it appeared in a press release published some time ago by Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Prime Minister Mark Rutte described it as very high and in January, the same percentage was quoted in a debate in the House of Representatives.


However, the percentage published by CBS only referred to first-year students taking a research university Bachelor’s or Master’s degree and not the student population as a whole. It is only in this group that international students account for 40 percent.

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A quarter

If you examine the total number of student enrolments, a different picture emerges. At Dutch research universities, 24 percent of Bachelor’s students and 27 percent of Master’s students come from abroad.


At universities of applied sciences, the picture is different. International students account for 7 percent of Bachelor’s students and a quarter of the 3,500 Master’s students. These figures are not new, but the Rathenau Institute has taken a fresh look at all the available figures on internationalisation and put them into perspective.


Do the maths and it turns out that 17 percent of all students in higher education in the Netherlands at present come from abroad. There are countries where this percentage is higher, Rathenau observes.

Other countries

A comparison with similar countries reveals that only four have more international students than the Netherlands. These include the UK, Australia and Canada, where English is the language of instruction. When it comes to Bachelor’s students alone, Austria is the unexpected number one among the countries of the OECD, with international students accounting for 19 percent. The Netherlands ranks joint fifth at both Bachelor’s and Master’s level.


The Rathenau research team goes on to observe that the Netherlands has risen quickly to the lead group in the internationalisation rankings. Since 2011, Dutch higher education has attracted 131 percent more international Bachelor’s students and 173 percent more international Master’s students. Outgoing Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf is currently working on a law designed to rein in the influx of international students.


The Rathenau Institute also looked at the job prospects of international students coming to the Netherlands. Some politicians keen to reduce the influx are receptive to the argument that leading Dutch tech companies, such as ASML, run on foreign talent. And it’s true that a relatively high proportion of international students stay on in the Netherlands after completing an engineering degree. IT graduates also make a smooth transition to the job market.

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Choosing a field of study

However, a further breakdown by Rathenau’s researchers obtained by HOP shows that a majority of international students graduate in other fields. At Dutch research universities, degrees in Behavioural and Social Sciences (including psychology, political science or sociology) are popular with this group, followed by programmes in Law and Governance. These fields offer far less promising career prospects.


At universities of applied sciences too, engineering and IT are not especially popular among international students. Only 15 percent of international Bachelor’s and Master’s students opt for a degree in these fields. The fact that so many international students study Language and Culture is due partly to the strong international orientation among Dutch academies of music and the arts.