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EP-Nuffic: Turning the Netherlands into a “hub for the permanent exchange of talent”

A recently-released report commissioned by ACA’s Dutch member organisation, EP-Nuffic, tackles an increasingly hot topic in international higher education – the retention of international graduates in the host country (in this case, in the Netherlands). The report – Welcome, to work! – was produced by the Bureau Blaauwberg.

The study departs from the realisation that the Netherlands is an increasingly attractive destination for internationally-mobile students, and explores the ways in which this ‘attractiveness’ can be further extended, by convincing a larger number of international graduates to consider entering the Dutch labour market. This is particularly relevant as the economic impact of international students on the host country, including in the Netherlands, had already been calculated several years ago as being largely positive (Promoting the country as a work destination amongst international students is also the main aim of “Make it in the Netherlands (MiitN)!” – a core initiative carried out for a few years now by EP-Nuffic and inspired by the sister initiative “Make it in Germany!”. However, the overarching goal of these promotional efforts is not to ‘keep’ international graduates ‘forever’ in the Netherlands, but to smartly make the country “well-known as a hub for the permanent exchange of talent in the global knowledge economy – not only for foreign nationals who are studying, but for all knowledge workers”.

Consequently, the study was guided by the following interrelated questions:

  • How can the Dutch raise awareness among internationally mobile students of the opportunities offered by the Dutch labour market? How can they smooth out the transition from study to work?
  • How can they make it advantageous for internationals who do leave again to keep the Netherlands on their radar? Can they be engaged as ambassadors? As change agents?
  • How to ensure that the rest of society follows the trend of internationalisation?
  • How to raise the demand among industry for mobile talent?

The study clearly shows that progress has already been made in retaining more international students in the Netherlands. For example, almost 40% of the international graduates in 2008/09 were still living in the Netherlands almost five years after graduation (39% “stay rate”). Of them, more than two thirds were employed (71% “working stay rate”). It is concluded that this positive development is due to a mix of supportive initiatives addressing linguistic aspects, regulations, as well as social integration and connectivity.

However, the report also shows that there is definitely room for improvement, and that for the country to be able to truly experience an “ongoing exchange of talent”, the retention of internationals has to be a central point of the working agendas of all ‘parties’ concerned: from government (by both having the “political invitation to stay” as well as supporting national programmes), to regional industry, municipalities (and municipal councils primarily) and last but not least, to educational institutions. The authors put forward multiple recommendations per type of actor, as well as for joint action, for putting these objectives into practice in the Dutch context.

Note: The Dutch version of the report was released in January 2016. Its English version became available in June 2016. The study was carried out based on a consultation of a large number of expert practitioners and of international students in The Netherlands.