Robin Waas eigen foto
Robin Waas is a Dutch student in Business Administration and Law at Erasmus University. Image credit: Own foto

Instead of attaining an ‘us versus them’ mindset, we should collaboratively look to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) to balance the influx and outflow of students better. Levelling the attractiveness of educational systems across the EHEA-territory will result in a more sustainable student-life in the Netherlands. Currently, the Dutch educational systems is simply too enticing for students compared to other educational systems.

For example, three of the four big parties in the House of Representatives (PVV, NSC, and VVD) mentioned restricting the international influx as a main objective during last November’s general elections. Important issues are the housing shortage, the decline of Dutch language skills, and the competition between international and Dutch students for study programme admission. Universities are now acting upon these matters, to much delight of many Dutch students.

However, we’re not seeing the full picture. It’s the fact that Dutch students can leave the Netherlands to advance their studies in other countries as well, and we do so, massively. The European Commission reported that 25 per cent of Dutch graduates have spent a study-related period abroad (outward mobility), ranking the Netherlands fourth out of 42 EHEA countries. Only Andorra, Luxembourg, and Cyprus are ahead of us. But let’s not forget that those countries are tiny, which may distort the numbers (e.g. 91 per cent for Andorra).

We owe our outward mobility in large part to NVAO, the reputable joint Accreditation Organisation of The Netherlands and Flanders. NVAO makes sure that through the highest quality assurance, our credentials are extremely well-accredited internationally. This makes it easier for Dutch students to join foreign universities than for students from most other countries. Of course, the average wealth of Dutch citizens also plays a major role.

At the same time, though, we have the luxury to opt out of foreign endeavours altogether as the Netherlands itself offers a very attractive landscape for students. This goes beyond well-performing business and academic climates, according to The Guardian and Forbes. It also includes things like excellent mobility through cycling, sports being an integral part of life, and relatively low tuition fees. Additionally, doing a master after the bachelor is a matter of course, which is also seen as a benefit. Hence why, of the 24,9 per cent mentioned earlier, only 2,3 per cent obtained a degree abroad, suggesting time spent abroad is usually relatively short and more luxury than (qualitative) necessity. This balance is reversed for countries where ‘home’ academic quality is generally less. For instance, of the 91 per cent of Andorran graduates who spent time abroad, 83 per cent obtained a foreign degree.

Turning back to the Netherlands, we see that on average 11,7 per cent of the student population has an international background. This results in rank 8 of 44 EHEA countries. More specifically, this number is made up of 5,6 per cent for bachelor students, 8,9 per cent for master students, and a staggering 20,8 per cent for PhDs. Of the average mentioned above, an imposing 6,4 per cent remains in the Netherlands for the entire length of their studies.

The numbers become even more striking when noted in absolute terms. According to Statista, the Netherlands is the fifth European country on the list in absolute numbers when it comes to hosting international students. Combined with the lower-ranking percentage, this translates to the student population in our country being large, which is supported by statistics from Eurostat. This in turn indicates that the average Dutch citizen is highly educated and wealthy, making them eligible for higher education in the first place. Our student population remaining large is also aligned with the belief that the Netherlands offers an attractive academic climate. It seems undesirable for Dutch students to leave the country for non-luxurious study related reasons. In the end, OECD rightfully states that the Netherlands has one of the more internationalised higher education systems.

As it’s important to try to balance the influx and exodus of students better, let’s look in the direction of the EHEA to even out the attractiveness of educational systems across its territory by matching the highest-performing systems such as the Netherlands. After all, this has been one of the main goals of the Bologna Declaration, which was signed in 1999 already. Doing so, the (long-term) outflow of Dutch students may increase, while the influx may decrease as other educational systems become as attractive as that of the Netherlands. This is the most win-win and collaborative way of solving the issues currently inflamed in Dutch societal discussions.

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