8% of Dutch Language & Culture students has travelled prior to entering university
Ideally, to ascertain learning outcomes, we need to know what students know and can do before they enter university. This would be the same for learning outcomes in intercultural and international competencies: we would like to know how much (and what type of) intercultural and international experience students have at entering university.
Recent surveys among students entering Dutch universities and universities of applied sciences, carried out by ResearchNed* at the request of Nuffic, reveal that close to 5% of the students entering the former type of institution and close to 2% of the students entering the latter type, have travelled in the year prior to entry. They belong to a group of students who, for various reasons, took a year off (gap year) between graduation and university. Sometimes this period is extended to two years, or even longer (8% of the students entering university, and 10% of the students entering a university of applied sciences have taken one or sometimes two years off).
In total, about 2.8% of the students entering Dutch higher education has travelled: assuming there are about 134,000 first year students, this would amount to about 3,750 students per year.
Next to the difference between university students and university of applied sciences students in this respect, there is a remarkable difference depending on the field of study. Students entering Dutch University Colleges and those entering Language & Culture Studies and (to a lesser extent) Behaviour & Society Studies at university or university of applied sciences have travelled more than average, while students choosing Engineering Studies have, in both cases, travelled (far) less.
During the university study the inverse is true: university graduates in Engineering Studies twice as often went abroad during their study as did university graduates in Language & Culture Studies and even over three times as often as university graduates in Behaviour & Society Studies. Of course, foreign experience during the study may well be (still) more relevant than foreign experience prior to entering university or university of applied sciences. Hopefully it is, with proper preparation and guidance. Therefore, it is still more unfortunate that university of applied sciences graduates in Engineering Studies did not (or could not) make up for their relative lack of foreign experience prior to the study.
Most students who take a gap year aim ‘to better be able to choose their field of study’. This motivation is cited more often than ‘to better prepare for the study choice’ or than ‘having failed entry to a study with a lottery entrance system’. Next to these three motivations students often cite ‘other reasons’ for their gap year.
This is also the case with students who travel during their gap year, while with students who travel, the motivations ‘to better prepare for the study of choice’ or ‘having failed entry to a study with a lottery entrance system’ feature as less important, and the motivation ‘other reasons’ as more important than with students with a gap year, in general.
The effect of a gap year is that indeed most students feel they are better able to make their study choice. This is also the case for students who travelled during the year, but somewhat less so than with students who worked or who did something else during the year.
Having travelled did also, and far more often, lead to a more internationally oriented study choice, than having worked or having done something else during the gap year.
Interestingly, having travelled significantly reduced the dropout rate in the first year with university students as compared to those who did not travel or who went straight to university, but it only had a minor positive effect with university of applied sciences students (again: compared to those who did not travel or who went straight to university).
Taking a year off to travel prior to entering a higher education institution generally assists the students who choose for this option with their study choice. It also reduces the chance of dropping out in the first year, in the case of university students. Students who travel are also more likely to choose a more internationally oriented study (irrespective of whether they enter a university or a university of applied sciences).
Students entering Dutch University Colleges, Language & Culture Studies or Behaviour & Society Studies have travelled more than average. The respective course programmes could use this experience in their curricula.
Gap Year project
Nuffic and the European Platform (the agency that supports internationalisation in primary and secondary education) are presently carrying out research on the motivations for taking a gap year. For further information please contact Ms Margje Geurts on +31 (0)70 - 426 02 60
*) ResearchNed is a research bureau based in Nijmegen, specialising in student and graduate surveys. The information used in this blog post is based on data from their ‘Startmonitor’. ResearchNed extended its regular survey for the ‘Startmonitor’ for this purpose, in collaboration with the Nuffic.