The new academic year has begun and everyone must have noticed how busy Roeterseiland, Science Park or any other location of the UvA is. It seems as if the amount of new students becomes larger every year. Indeed, this is the case: the number of students starting a bachelor’s at the university level has increased massively. What causes this increase and what will be the effects of it?
When the old student-financing system, in which students received a gift as funding, was replaced by the new system in which these gifts were replaced by loans, a lot of people were afraid that university applications would drop massively. This was indeed the case the first year this system was introduced, but now there seems to be a shift. Whereas the number of applications decreased by 6.8 per cent in 2015, there is now an increase of 5.2 per cent. The main reason for the decrease in 2015 is that most students who would have taken a gap year in 2014 and intended to start in 2015 decided not to take a gap year because of the removal of the study gifts. Now, it does not matter if you take a gap year or not, the system remains the same. Furthermore, more Dutch students attend higher high school education, namely vwo, the only level within the Dutch school system which allows students to go directly to university. So the more students attend this level at high school, the more students go to university.
The biggest increase took place in the level of international students. This year, there was an increase of 27.3 per cent. You can especially see the increase in the group of German and Chinese students.
What are the reasons for international students to choose Dutch universities? Of course the first one is that the universities in the Netherlands are all considered great universities with a high quality of education. This results in high rankings in international rankings of universities. The majority of Dutch universities provide high quality education. Secondly are the costs of study. In the Netherlands education is relatively cheap in comparison to other countries. Even though most Dutch students still complain about their college fee, many international students know that it could be a lot worse. Furthermore, many international students say that the way Dutch universities teach is different than in other countries. In the Netherlands, discussions in class are highly promoted, and even though every student ought to have respect for their professor it is allowed to go into discussion with the professor if you do not agree with the viewpoints made by the professor.
These are all reasons why international students choose for the Netherlands, but what causes the massive increases from the past years? There is a simple explanation: more study programmes become available for international students. More and more universities offer their studies both in Dutch and English, and in some cases even only in English. This is because there is a high demand for these studies due to internationalization and globalization. An example for this are the University Colleges. These University Colleges are relatively new in the Netherlands. The oldest University College is situated in Utrecht and was founded in 1997. The rest were founded much later, mostly between 2009 and 2014. They are based on the American model of liberal arts and sciences. Students get a lot of freedom to choose their own courses, whereas most Dutch studies are studies in which students are educated for a particular profession. Because this study programme is based on an American model, many international students find it attractive and more recognizable. This can be seen in the increase of 30,5 per cent of international students, whereas most other studies only had an increase of 2 to 10 per cent. Furthermore, most people in the Netherlands are able to speak English, so that there is almost no need to learn the Dutch language, which makes it a lot easier for international students in comparison to other countries like France or Italy where not as many people speak English.
It is a good thing that more people go to university, but can all the universities deal with this increase of students? Universities get paid for each student that graduates, so more students would result in more money to invest in education or expansion.
Unfortunately, the amount of money universities receive for each students has dropped over the past few years, so the universities have to deal with a relatively low budget in comparison to the amount of students. Due to this, universities cannot expand or increase their capacity, so a lot of studies do selections because there is place for only a limited amount of students. Another effect is that the workload of the staff of the university increases due to the increases in lectures they need to provide. Furthermore, more lectures and not enough buildings will result in more evening lectures. Or lectures in very unique settings, like Carré and Cinemas. Which is not a bad place to go to for a lecture, better than a tent I must say, as is the case at Roeterseiland.
These are all effects in the short run, because the Dutch government expects that these budget problems will disappear. The expectation is that universities will receive 256 million extra each year, starting in the near future, due to the replacement of the old funding system by the new funding system with the study loans. But it will take a while before this will fix the capacity problems universities endure now.
On the long term the increase in students will have an effect on the Netherlands as a whole. Firstly, the increase in the amount of international students is very good for the Dutch economy. A quarter of the international students stays in the Netherlands after university. Most of the students who stay are from Belgium, Germany, China, Indonesia and Poland. They work mostly in the field of technology and health. This is a good thing because there is a labour deficit in these sectors. Another positive aspect of international students for the Dutch economy is that international students, on average, finish their studies quicker and with higher grades. In total, international students are good for 1.57 billion euros for the Dutch government.
Secondly, the overall increase in students will have a positive effect on society. Students are well-educated and able to fulfill more complex jobs and tasks. The only problem will be, are there that many jobs that require a degree? Might there be a limited number of jobs that require a degree, are there too many lawyers and economists? Probably not. A degree does educate a student for a particular job, but also shows a lot more. It shows that a person can think on an academic level and is able to solve complex problems and may even do a research. University is always an investment in your own future, so the increase in students is a very positive and obvious thing.
All in all, it is very crowded now at the UvA. This is probably temporary and in the long-term this problem will be solved. But at this moment most universities have to deal with budget constraints, which make it hard for them to expand. So more limits will be put on the amount of students who can enroll a certain study programme. Hopefully it will not take too long before these budget constraints will be solved, because an increase in students has its advantages and is good for the economy. So let’s make room for more students!