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International Students in the Netherlands Boost Education, Culture and the Economy

High stay-rate of international graduates makes welcome contribution to Dutch talent pool

The Netherlands is very much a country that is driven by consensus and multiple stakeholder contributions, where every voice is heard and considered.

international students
Source: University of Groningen, Mediatheek Rijksoverheid

Free minds

This level-headedness and freedom of expression is perhaps the reason why the Netherlands has always provided a safe and fertile environment for great thinkers and inquisitive minds. In the past, philosophers such as Spinoza, Hobbes and Descartes were welcomed here and were free to think and postulate and publish treatises that they could not openly share in their own countries.


We still welcome thinkers from foreign countries and, luckily, they are seldom fleeing oppression these days, but, rather, electing to come and study here, often under scholarships or bursaries. What they encounter is an open and free-thinking multicultural society where they are encouraged to think out of the box and to be part of a student community that is rich and rewarding. The ‘Week of the International Student’, from 12-18 November, is organized by Nuffic – a government body that stimulates internationalization in education – and features a plethora of workshops and events to help international students in their orientation.


The majority of international students, particularly because they are funded by scholarships, tend to be very focused, spending their time earnestly studying, learning and contributing to society. Many are expected to return to their land of origin to help address problems or to bring knowledge and expertise on specific topics. However, a large number also elect to remain in the Netherlands, to take advantage of the ‘Search Year’ visa program and eventually to find employment here.

international students
Source: Mediatheek Rijksoverheid

Internationalization at home

The presence of a large number of foreign students acts as a catalyst for local Dutch students, helping to raise the bar, creating a healthily competitive environment where intellectual prowess is valued, and excellence is rewarded. It also gives rise to the phenomenon ‘internationalization at home’ – whereby Dutch students, while staying and studying in their own country, still learn a lot about other cultures. Alejandro Rodriguez, from Mexico, who studied a Masters in Embedded Systems at TU Eindhoven, comments: ‘I was very surprised to see how seriously people take the expression “full-time student” here. Standards are really high and everyone, students, professors and authorities, take pride and responsibility in their roles. I come from an education system where the learning quality is completely dependent on the interest and dedication of the students. In the Netherlands, at least in my experience, every student is pushed to reach at least a certain minimum level. I was pleasantly surprised to see that.’

Knowledge export

Wageningen University and Research (WUR) is one of the world’s leading agricultural institutions, and students come from all around the world to learn about innovative techniques in greenhouse cultivation, or irrigation, or plant reproduction. They often return to their homelands to help create solutions for food shortages, or water management, or climate adaptation. In this way, Dutch expertise is fueling the efforts of many countries to get large parts of their populations out of poverty. Many students that return home to address local problems are already familiar with the Dutch approach to their topic and are already familiar with the expert companies based here that they later go on to recommend for generating solutions in their own land.

In demand

The technical universities of Eindhoven (TU Eindhoven) and Delft (TU Delft) are also in high demand. These high-ranking universities are well-respected research institutions offering attractive study courses and top facilities in the areas of aerospace engineering, solar-powered vehicles, robotics, renewable energy, and many other advanced topics.

High stay-rate

Alejandro Rodriguez mentions that his primary motivation for studying in the Netherlands was to obtain a world-class education with strong links with industry. What ultimately convinced him to come here was the large number of scholarship programs and general openness to international students. Having elected to remain in the Netherlands, he now works as a software designer for the Dutch high-tech multinational ASML. (Graduates from these technical universities have the highest stay-rate, that is to say, the percentage that remains and work following graduation. Art Academies also exhibit a significant stay-rate.)

international students
Source: Deltares/Marco de Swart

Building bridges

As previously mentioned, the ‘Search Year’ visa – a one-year visa granted by the Immigration Service – is designed to allow students time to find suitable employment in the Netherlands. It appears to be working well with an impressive 25 per cent of all international students still here and working after five years. This not only contributes to Dutch culture and society but also provides foreign companies with a rich talent pool of potential employees from the same country of origin, that have settled and integrated into Dutch society. These ex-students help bridge the gap between countries and cultures and this enables foreign companies to hit the ground running when they wish to set up operations in the Netherlands.

Talent pool

The key areas that prove particularly attractive to international students include agriculture, the creative industries, economics, and, unsurprisingly, water management. Many are also attracted by the presence of leading multinationals such as Philips, Shell, and ASML and the perspectives they offer. Between 2006 and 2013, a total of 85,500 international students graduated in the Netherlands. With roughly a quarter of them electing to remain here, that created a highly-educated talent pool of 22,000 graduates. Amsterdam attracts by far the largest number of remainers at around 25 per cent. Next most-popular destinations are the Randstad cities of Utrecht, The Hague and Rotterdam. The high percentage of remainers after five years results in a contribution to the Dutch economy of more than 2 billion euros each year.

Alejandro mentions that all the expectations he had before coming here to study were met, and even surpassed. He plans to stay and work in the Netherlands for the foreseeable future. In so doing, he adds to the rich, well educated, multi-lingual talent pool here in the Netherlands, enabling companies to recruit the quality personnel they need to succeed.

November 17, 2018 is worldwide International Student Day. The Netherlands marked ‘The Week of the International Student’ from 12-18 November.


16 November 2018

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