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The Netherlands: foreign students remain welcome

In the Netherlands, the debate about the pros and cons of university policies to attract foreign students continues. The discussion had been started by right-wing politicians and members of parliament who implied that that the Netherlands were wasting taxpayers’ money on foreign students. In reaction, the government had commissioned a study into the economic and other implications of foreigners studying in the country. On 16 May, the Secretary of State for Education, Halbe Zijlstra, reported to the Dutch House of Representatives on the main findings of the report De economische effecten van internationalisering in het hoger onderwijs (the economic effects of internationalisation in higher education).

Zijlstra underlined there were strong reasons to continue the country’s internationalisation policy. Referring to the results of the above-mentioned study by the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB), he reported the Netherlands would make a gain of some EUR 740 million  a year if at least one in five foreign graduates stayed on and worked in the country after graduation. Even with a ‘retention’ rate of only 2.5% (one in forty) there would likely still be a small gain.

In order to increase the ‘retention’ of foreign graduates in the Netherlands, information provision must be improved. Apparently, many graduates from outside of the EU are unaware of the possibility to stay on in the country for a full year in order to find a job. A more active alumni policy, better contacts with Dutch companies and further studies into promising ways of retaining graduates are also necessary.

Zijlstra further stressed that the quality of foreign students was essential and had to be improved. For this reason, he had agreed on appropriate selection measures with Dutch universities. He also stressed that the country’s tertiary institutions must stop creating programmes mainly targeting German students and serving the German labour market. Like in Austria and Switzerland, Germans make up the largest single nationality among foreign students in the Netherlands.

Minister’s speech (in Dutch)

CPB study (in Dutch)