International student numbers in the Netherlands balloon and many stay after their studies

International student numbers in the Netherlands balloon and many stay after their studies

According to research from the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education, Nuffic, the number of international students studying a full-time degree course at Dutch universities or universities of applied sciences has doubled in the last 10 years from 40.000 to 80.000 enrolments in 2016-17. It is not only the numbers which have increased; the diversity amongst international students has also expanded to 164 different nationalities.

The number of Dutch students studying a degree abroad is roughly a fifth to a quarter of the number of international students studying in the Netherlands.

Dutch cities with the most international students

The Dutch cities Amsterdam, Maastricht, Rotterdam and Groningen attract the most international students. However, Amsterdam and Maastricht have the most foreign students, at around 10.000 per city. Rotterdam and Groningen each draw in about 8.000 foreign students.

Relatively, Maastricht has the most international students, with foreign nationals making up 50 percent of the student population. In Amsterdam, although the numbers are similar to Maastricht, foreign students account for only 10 percent of the total student population. In cities such as The Hague, Delft and Wageningen, the percentage of international students lies around 20 percent.

Dutch degree choices

The degree choices that international students tend to make, differs depending on their country of origin. Engineering, International Business & Management and Economy degrees at technical universities in Eindhoven, Delft and Wageningen were particularly popular amongst students from Asia and China. This group also favoured Groningen, Rotterdam and Amsterdam for Business degrees.

British students tended to lean towards Liberal Arts and Sciences and European Studies. The number of British students has increased fourfold in the last five to six years, to around 2.750 students in 2016-17. These numbers are somewhat due to the sudden rise in British tuition fees in 2011-12 and the, therefore, lower Dutch tuition fees in comparison.

Economics & Business Studies, followed by Human and Social Sciences were the top choices amongst the 22.000 German students who enrolled in 2016-17. Eastern Europeans were mostly found at universities of applied sciences in the major cities in the Netherlands, whilst Southern Europeans had an inclination towards traditional research universities.

The biggest groups of international students in the Netherlands came from Eastern and Southern Europe, India, Indonesia, China and neighbouring countries. Ten years ago, more than 50 percent of international students came from Germany and Belgium. Germans and Belgians are most likely to enrol at Universities which are close to the border, such as Maastricht and Groningen.

Staying in the Netherlands

The percentage of internationals living and working in the Netherlands after completing their studies is higher than previously thought.

Every year, around 12.000 foreign students complete their degrees at a Dutch university or university of applied sciences. Of these 12.000 foreign nationals, around half leave the Netherlands three years after they have graduated; however, between 36 and 42 percent stay for at least five years, and 25 percent settle in the Netherlands for the rest of their lives.

Internationals tend to live and work in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht, and based on models from the Netherlands Central Planning Bureau (CPB), they yield approximately 1,57 billion euros annually for the Dutch economy.


Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

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