The news has been announced by DUO, the executive agency in charge of student financing. The citizen service number – BSN in Dutch – will enable these students to make all kinds of practical arrangements before they come to study at a Dutch institution. The aim is to make their move easier.

Previously, students from the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands – the islands of Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten – were only able to apply for a BSN when they registered with a Dutch municipality on arrival. This posed all sorts of practical problems.


In late 2020, the National Ombudsman sounded the alarm about the obstacles faced by Caribbean students. A report described discrimination and issues stemming from cultural differences and language problems, but also highlighted complications in connection with the BSN.

No speedy solution was forthcoming, much to the annoyance of the Ombudsman, who called the situation in the Netherlands dire. He pointed out that it was easier for students from the Caribbean Netherlands to study in Belgium, for example, where they are treated as EU citizens.

Now a solution has been found. The prospective students will be sent their BSN by letter. Because postal services to the Caribbean can be slow, prospective students will also be able to call DUO in advance to request their BSN over the phone.

In April, DUO employees will visit the Caribbean islands to provide prospective students and their parents with information on student financing and other practical matters. DUO also plans to open a temporary service office on each of the islands.

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Kingdom Grant

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the situation of Caribbean students in the Netherlands. For example, they can now obtain a Kingdom Grant, a kind of Erasmus grant to fund exchanges between the various parts of the kingdom. This grant is available to about 120 students each year.

Erasmus grants are available to Dutch students who want to study abroad, but are not open to students from the Caribbean Netherlands who want to study at a Dutch institution, as technically they would be studying in the same country. This meant it was more straightforward for students from Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten – which are countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands – to do an internship or exchange in another European country such as Belgium, France or Germany, instead of the Netherlands. The same was true for students from Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, islands which have the status of ‘special municipalities’ within the kingdom.

Path to success

The hope is that these improvements in their situation will offer Caribbean students a smoother path to success. At present, only 20 percent of Caribbean students graduate from a Dutch university of applied sciences within five years, compared to almost 40 percent of students from a non-Western migration background and 50 percent of students with no migration background.

At Dutch universities, academic success is also harder to achieve for Caribbean students: fewer than 50 percent obtain their Bachelor’s degree within four years, compared to 60 percent of students from other groups.

A recent study revealed that, since the introduction of selective admission criteria at Dutch higher education institutions, students from the Caribbean Netherlands are less likely to gain admission to health-related programmes such as medicine and physiotherapy. The government has yet to respond to these findings.

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