Dutch universities struggle to keep up with growing student population

Dutch universities struggle to keep up with growing student population

Figures released by the Dutch Association of Universities (VSNU) reveal that a record number of students enrolled at universities in the Netherlands this year. While this may seem like good news for the future of higher education, Dutch universities have said they’re struggling to keep up with growing numbers.

Rising number of students enrolled at Dutch universities

According to provisional figures for the 2021 - 2022 academic year, over 340.000 students have enrolled in bachelor’s and master’s programmes in the Netherlands. This marks a growth of 4 percent compared with last year.

The VSNU says the significant increase is the result of an influx in the number of international students this autumn. Of the 340.700 students enrolled in Dutch universities, 23 percent are from abroad.

Over the past few years, the Netherlands has faced a rising number of international students, and this year’s sudden increase can be attributed to two main factors: students who postponed their enrolment last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Brexit.

Universities struggling to accommodate new international students

A number of Dutch cities have already struggled to accommodate the rising number of students. This autumn, hundreds of students were left without accommodation as cities faced student housing shortages.

Now, the VSNU has warned that the influx of international students could also have a negative impact on the universities themselves. “Internationalisation contributes to the quality of education,” says chairman Pieter Duisenberg. “But there is a limit to the ability of our universities to accommodate the ever-increasing influx of international students and to provide us with high-quality education.”

Duisenberg notes that the growing number of students also has “major financial consequences” for universities, as the government grant per student currently fails to keep up with student numbers: “The number of students has doubled since 2000, but the government grant per student has fallen by 25 percent and continues to fall with this growth.” 

UvA chair says university is overflowing

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) - frequently ranked as one of the top universities in continental Europe and a popular choice for both Dutch and international students - has said it is already struggling to keep up. This year sees the size of the total student body increase by 6 percent compared to last year, with the number of new international bachelor’s students rising by 33 percent. 

“We can no longer handle that growth,” says UvA chair Geert ten Dam. “There is a housing shortage, there is no longer enough space on the campuses, the workload of employees is unacceptably high and the quality of our education is also under pressure. The groups are getting bigger, teachers have to supervise more theses; it is overflowing completely.”

Ten Dam says the Dutch government will have to take action - and soon. Due to EU rules, universities in the Netherlands are obliged to admit students from across the bloc, but she would like to see legislation introduced that allows universities to manage the influx of international students.

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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