Overseas students three times more likely to drop out than Dutch

Inspectors cite concerns about housing quality and accessibility, but say higher first-year rates may simply be because students ‘do not feel at home’

October 23, 2022
Sad bicycle on a bridge in Amsterdam, early in the morning
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International students are dropping out of Dutch bachelor’s programmes at a rate three times higher than their Dutch peers, according to a recent analysis by government inspectors.

The Dutch Inspectorate of Education found that 17 per cent of international students from both inside and outside the European Union dropped out by the end of the first year of their bachelor’s, compared with just 6 per cent of their Dutch peers.

Their analysis of data from 2011-17 showed that after four years, about a quarter of international students had quit Dutch higher education without a bachelor’s degree, compared with 9 per cent of Dutch students.

Recent years have seen continued growth in international student numbers in the Netherlands, and universities have made pleas for the power to restrict numbers, particularly at undergraduate level, where pressure is greatest.

The University of Amsterdam has considered putting language-specific student number caps on two of its most popular programmes, despite experts warning of legal risks from discrimination lawsuits.

Other institutions, such as Erasmus University Rotterdam, Delft University of Technology and the Erasmus Medical Centre, are coordinating their programme offerings to help manage surges in demand.

The influx is putting pressure on universities and cities, with students forced to stay in hostels or told not to enrol if they cannot find a place to stay beforehand.

The inspectors acknowledged bottlenecks around housing and growing concerns about quality and access for Dutch students, and while their analysis was not able to pin down the causes driving international dropouts, they said the higher rate “is a sign that a significant number of these students do not feel at home”.

That is supported by findings from the Annual International Student Survey, which reported in August that 59 per cent of students struggle with mental health problems, and 28 per cent do not feel at home in the Netherlands.

Research in other sectors has found that local language skills were a major factor in dropouts, with some students in Germany realising only mid-course that their skills were insufficient to write a thesis.

Although international students are more likely to drop out, the data show that those who stick with their courses have similar or even higher graduation rates than the 46 per cent of Dutch peers who finish – 47 per cent for students from outside the European Economic Area, who pay between €6,000 (£5,200) and €23,600 a year in tuition fees, rising to 59 per cent of those from within the area, who pay the same fees as Dutch students, about €2,200.

The education minister, Robbert Dijkgraaf, has withdrawn a draft bill allowing caps on English-language courses, telling parliament that he will to develop legal tools to manage student inflows as part of a package of wider higher education reforms, due early next year.


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