The findings come from the latest report on stay rates of international students in the Netherlands, which identified the “key role” higher education plays in attracting international knowledge workers to the country.
It found that one year after graduation, some 46% of international graduates remained in the Netherlands. After five years, this stay rate dropped to 24% – equivalent to some 33,500 graduates. Of this figure, 74% are participating in the labour market.
“International students… could play a role in filling the shortages we have in our labour market”
Earlier this year the Dutch government body for internationalisation in education reported a 12% year-on-year increase in the numbers of international students, reaching a total of 115,068
The €1.5bn estimate for the 2021/22 cohort is almost a doubling compared to the inflow in 2017/18, Nuffic found. Students from outside the European Economic Area at Dutch universities will yield the most, it added, at almost €900 million.
Like a 2016 report identifying similar findings, the proportion of retention remains higher among students from outside of the EEA than their European counterparts.
While some 19% of students from the EEA are still in the country after five years, the ratio for non-EEA students is 38%. The 2016 report said that it “makes sense that [non-EEA students] would put in more effort to stay on after graduation”, since they had “already made a big decision”.
“International students from EEA countries have greater freedom of movement within the EEA,” said Astrid Elfferich, the author of the latest report.
“That makes it easier for them to accept a job in a different EEA country after they graduate. That freedom of movement is not or to a far lesser extent available to graduates from outside the EEA who are subject to visa requirements.”
Non-EEA students may be more attracted to the Dutch job market, she suggested. Additionally, the fact that they are more likely than European students to earn masters degrees from research universities may mean they can find a job more easily after graduation.
While the percentage of students staying in the Netherlands from EEA is lower than non-EEA students, absolute numbers show that a higher number of European graduates stay. Some 18,000 from the continent are still in the country after five years, while the figure for non-Europeans is 15,000.
Beyond five years it is not clear what plans graduates have.
“In general we know stay rates go down rapidly the first years after graduation and then stabilise around 24%,” a Nuffic spokesperson told The PIE.
The research also shows that stay rates are high among education and engineering graduates – both sectors where the the Netherlands has shortages. The highest number of ‘stayers’ can be found among graduates in the field of economics, it added.
The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (UNL) was recently one of a handful of signees of a letter to the government regarding the ‘30% facility’ for expats. The initiative allows employers to provide 30% of expats’ wages tax-free and is designed to attract foreign talent to the country.
The letter said that cancelling or cutting back the facility would “seriously damage” the country’s position as an attractive location for scientific talent. It would especially affect young, early career researchers in particular, it warned.
“International students that choose to stay in the Netherlands after graduating could play a role in filling the shortages we have in our labour market,” the Nuffic spokesperson said.
The research also identified regions most popular for graduates staying in the country. Of individuals working in the country’s labour market after five years, a third are working in the Greater Amsterdam. Haaglanden, Rijnmond, Central Utrecht and Southeast Brabant complete the top five regions, Nuffic added.
“There is a societal debate in the Netherlands going on about the rising numbers of international students enrolling in Dutch universities,” Nuffic added.
According to the agency’s April report, the government’s coalition cabinet – formed in December 2021 – is “aware of the increasing number of incoming degree students”.
“In their coalition agreement they pay specific attention to offering policy guidance to manage the flow of international students,” the report noted.
Provisional figures released in November 2021 from the UNL indicate that enrolments for the academic year 2021-22 at Dutch research universities reached an all-time high.
UNL president Pieter Duisenberg has called on the government to provide policy guidance to help manage the flow of international students.
“The Nuffic report shows that the whole of the Netherlands financially benefits from international students”
“[Internationalisation] contributes to our high quality of education and research, it reinforces the international position of the Netherlands as a knowledge society and it is for many regions in the Netherlands a factor in addressing the needs and shortcoming of Dutch labour market,” a spokesperson for UNL noted.
“The Nuffic report shows that the whole of the Netherlands financially benefits from international students.”
However, international student numbers in some degree programs are “growing too fast to keep up the quality of education high and the workload manageable”, they added.
“Universities are therefore in urgent need of additional instruments that will allow them to continue responding to international student numbers.”
Management instruments the association has been calling for since 2018 include: an enrolment quota specifically for an English-language track within a degree program (while the Dutch-language track remains open); a maximum number of non-EEA students per degree program; and an emergency quota.
The final quota would be used if it becomes apparent during the application procedure that the number of applications is increasing so rapidly that the degree program is getting into difficulty, UNL said.
“At the moment we do not have the possibility to use these instruments. So for the next academic year this is too late. We are awaiting a decision by the minister and hope to have clarity soon,” the spokesperson added.