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NL: lack of jobs, high costs driving away int’l grads

The lack of suitable jobs, the high cost of living and the crowded housing market are the main reasons international students choose to leave the Netherlands after completing their studies, according to research from Dutch education organisation Nuffic. 

People riding bicycles in the Netherlands.Photo: Unsplash.

Students who chose to stay said the quality of life in the Netherlands was the main reason

In a survey of 680 graduates and current students, 30% said they experienced discrimination during job interviews or in the workplace.

Currently, around a quarter of international students remain living in the Netherlands five years after graduating. According to Nuffic, this figure has been relatively stable for the past decade. 

The research comes amid uncertainty about the future of the country’s international education sector following the election of Geert Wilders as Prime Minister, a right-wing politician who is expected to pursue an anti-immigration agenda. 

The “stay rate” of international graduates has been a focus point of political conversations in recent years. 

“As a university, it is not our primary task to increase the stay rate,” said Karen de Man, senior international relations officer at Erasmus University Rotterdam. “But we do, however, want to prepare our international students for the Dutch labour market as well as possible.”

The majority of those who left the Netherlands said they did so due to the lack of suitable work. Over a third also said they left because they couldn’t find housing, while many reported they were unable to afford to continue living in the Netherlands. 

For those from outside the EU, problems with residence permits were mentioned by 62% of respondents as a reason for departing. 

Meanwhile, the majority of the students who chose to stay said the quality of life in the Netherlands was the main reason for their decision, alongside career opportunities and work-related factors, including a good work-life balance, job stability and higher salaries. 

Some also remained for personal reasons such as having an existing partner or relationship in the country. 

However, many in this group reported challenges finding housing and jobs, with almost 70% finding the Dutch language requirements for job applications challenging. 

Government policy has also been proposed to boost Dutch language skills and reduce English-language courses. 

“This study shows the importance of career events and career guidance, and efforts to support international students in building a network and learning Dutch,” said researcher Elli Thravalou said. 

She added that students often underestimate the importance of learning the language.

“A lot of job offers specifically ask for Dutch language skills”

“During their studies, and when going out in cities, they get along speaking English. But if you really want to integrate into society, and work for Dutch companies, suddenly they discover that speaking Dutch makes life much easier. A lot of job offers specifically ask for Dutch language skills.”

Some 30% of the students who remained said they faced discrimination, while those from outside the EU could only work for a limited number of companies due to regulations. 

The students and graduates were also asked what helped them to find work and most of those who remained mentioned financial support during their job hunt. Nearly 7 in 10 of that group indicated that gaining relevant work experience during their studies, through internships or part-time jobs, was useful or very useful in their job search.

De Man said, “A lack of social or professional support can be devastating when entering the labour market.

“That is where we see a role for ourselves, to boost contact between Dutch and international students, and to make them feel at home in the city”. 

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