Higher education plays a key role in attracting international knowledge workers

Almost a quarter of international graduates still reside in the Netherlands five years after graduating here. And about three quarters of them then have a job. The net contribution of these international graduates to Dutch public finances is increasing. This emerges from a new study by Nuffic into the stay rate of international graduates in the Netherlands.

The study shows that higher education plays a key role in attracting international knowledge workers to the Netherlands. In the 2006-2007 to 2015-2016 academic years, a total of 138,640 international students graduated from Dutch higher education institutions . Nearly 33,500 of those still resided in the Netherlands five years after graduating.

Stay rate stabilised

The study found that the percentage of international graduates that remain in the Netherlands after their graduation stabilised in recent years. “In the wake of the credit crunch, the stay rate decreased for several years in a row.

But since the 2009-2010 academic year, the stay rate five years after graduation has fluctuated between 23% and 24%”, says Astrid Elfferich, who conducted the study into the stay rate and job market position of international graduates in the Netherlands. In the study, Elfferich looked at the stay rate of international graduates over a period of one to five years after their graduation.

Astrid Elfferich

Many graduates work in the government, education and health care sector

The study found that a relatively large percentage of the international graduates who remain in the Netherlands 5 years after graduation work in the government, education and health care sector. For around a third of the international graduates in employment, the study was unable to establish in which sector they work based on the obtained data.

Of those who graduated in the 2006-2007 to 2015-2016 academic years for which the sector they work in could be established, 5,300 (36%) worked in the government, education and health care sector five years after graduating. Other popular sectors among international graduates in employment are business services (29%) and the trade, transport and hospitality sector (14%).

Engineering students have a high stay rate

The study also found that international graduates with an engineering degree have a relatively high stay rate. 40% of all international graduates with a degree in engineering from a research university still resided in the Netherlands five years after graduating. A high stay rate among international graduates is of key importance to the engineering sector and the Dutch economy in general, says Arianne Bijma, Global manager talent programs and university relations at the multinational tech company ASML, headquartered in Veldhoven.

Arianne Bijma

“In fact, international graduates are critical to our company. We are currently hiring around 300 people a month. Many of those join us straight out of university”, says Bijma. “Even if we were able to ensure that all young people in the Netherlands did a degree towards a profession with labour shortages, we would still be short of workers. We simply cannot manage without international graduates.”

Regional differences

The study was broader in scope than earlier stay rate studies by Nuffic, also looking at regional job market differences (in Dutch: arbeidsmarktregio’s). It found that the greater Amsterdam region attracts many graduates. “Around a third of international graduates who did a degree in the Netherlands, and who were active on the labour market, worked in this region five years after graduating”, says Elfferich.

She also discovered that North Holland and South Holland are the most popular provinces to live in among international graduates. Nearly half (49%) of those who still resided in the Netherlands five years after their graduation lived in one of these two provinces.

“However, we observed that the Randstad region does not top the list for all fields of study. Among engineering graduates, for example, Southeast Brabant, where Brainport Eindhoven is located, is the most popular region for jobs”, says Elfferich.

According to Bijma, many graduates currently still prefer the Randstad region. “That’s mainly due to the attractiveness of living there. We observe that the Eindhoven region still lacks some amenities in this respect. So it’s very important to invest in those. But we’re also seeing a lot of positive changes and the region is becoming increasingly international. Almost every nationality now has a community in the Brainport region.”

Higher stay rate among graduates from non-EEA countries

According to Elfferich, another notable finding is the fact that international graduates from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) have a higher stay rate than those from EEA countries. “38% of graduates from EEA countries still reside in the Netherlands five years after graduating, compared to 19% of graduates from EEA countries. That’s a substantial difference.”

Explore the differences between EER and non-EER students in the interactive dashboard

Want to visualise more data from this study? Go to the full dashboard.

Elfferich believes this is probably due to three factors. “International students from EEA countries have greater freedom of movement within the EEA. That makes it easier for them to accept a job in a different EEA country after they graduate. That freedom of movement is not or to a far lesser extent available to graduates from outside the EEA who are subject to visa requirements”, says Elfferich.

The higher stay rate among non-EEA graduates may also be due to the relative attractiveness of the Dutch job market. In addition, it may be due to the fact that non-EEA graduates are far more likely to have a master’s degree from a research university than EEA graduates. These graduates can usually find a job straight of university.

“We’re generally very eager to hire these graduates”, says Bijma. “They are already familiar with the Dutch culture and know what it’s like to live here. People who have already studied here are less likely to return to their home country due to getting homesick, for example.”

Small differences in stay rate between women and men

The study was also broader in scope than earlier stay rate studies in examining differences between women and men. According to Elfferich, no major differences were found in the stay rate between women and men. However, female graduates had a slightly higher job market participation rate than male graduates. Among international graduates remaining in the Netherlands after graduating, the percentage in employment increased with each year after graduation to 74% after five years.

Net contribution of 1.5 billion euros to public finances

Another new focus of the study was gross annual income. One year after graduating, the average gross annual income was € 32,454. After five years, this had increased by over 41% to €45,930. Elfferich estimated that the international students who enrolled in Dutch higher education in the 2021-2022 academic year will ultimately make a net contribution of 1.5 billion euros to Dutch public finances.

The study found that thanks to the government policy introduced in 2012 and the growing number of international students graduating and remaining in the Netherlands, the total net contribution of international graduates is increasing. “Compared to previous studies, there was access to more detailed data allowing us to calculate the actual net contribution to Dutch public finances”, says Elfferich.

The total net contribution is probably higher than the 1.5 billion euros Elfferich was able to estimate based on the available data. “For example, certain side effects, such as the chain migration of relatives of international students who move to the Netherlands and find work here, were not included in the figures. Those probably also make a net contribution to Dutch public finances.”