International students satisfied, but also stressed

International students at Dutch research universities and universities of applied sciences are very happy with their studies. At the same time, many students experience negative emotions such as stress and loneliness.
studenten discusieren

The Netherlands has been a popular destination for international students all over the world for many years. Students choose the Netherlands because of the quality of the education, the vibrant student life in the cities and the good social facilities.

But adapting to a new environment also brings challenges – challenges that have become more visible than ever during the corona pandemic. In order to gain a clearer picture of the well-being of this target group, Nuffic conducted a survey among nearly 1,200 international students in the Netherlands. The results were published today in the report ‘How is it going with international students at Dutch higher education institutions? A report on study experience and well-being’.

“We know from research that many students have psychological complaints, such as feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness,” says Elli Thravalou, researcher at Nuffic. “These feelings are even more common among international students, but precise data were lacking. That is why we zoom in on this group in this study. Understanding the study experience and well-being of international students is essential to understanding what is needed to better support them.”

Most students satisfied

The new research paints a picture of the ups and downs of international student life. For example, it appears that 76 percent of students are (very) satisfied with their study. This is partly due to the high quality of education, the personal development students go through, and the social support they experience.
Most students (61 percent) also say they are happy with their life. This life satisfaction can be found predominantly among international students who are socially and culturally integrated, are satisfied with their accommodation, and feel supported.

Yet there is also a significant group of students who are having a hard time. While about half of the respondents say they often or always feel motivated and happy, a third of them often or always experience loneliness or boredom. In fact, of all emotions (positive and negative), stress is the most common: 62 percent of international students often or always feel stressed. These feelings are mainly related to their studies (results) and future career prospects. 34 percent are having a hard time and 5 percent a very hard time.

"62 percent of international students often or always feel stressed."


These results are 'absolutely recognisable', says Simon Bloo, policy officer at Utrecht University. “First and foremost, it is positive that a clear majority of international students are happy. But there is also a fairly large group for whom things are not going well. Here in Utrecht, too, we see that about 30 percent of (international) students need support.”

Utrecht University has approximately 40,000 students. About 6,000 of them come from abroad. The university's own research showed that students rate their 'general happiness in life' with a 6 on average and that they experienced more stress during the corona crisis. “And I wouldn't be surprised if that figure is even lower for international students,” says Simon.

Warm Welcome Project

According to his colleague Olesya Bath, project leader of the Warm Welcome Project at the university, the corona pandemic has boosted awareness about well-being. “Well-being was certainly not neglected before now. But COVID-19 and the increasing focus on inclusion have ensured that we are now looking even more closely at the needs of specific target groups. In Utrecht, with the Warm Welcome Project, which was already under development before corona, we are opting for a more structured approach towards international students.”

The Warm Welcome Project was started in response to the growing number of international students. The project consists of services and activities aimed at support and community building. The goal: to give international students a feeling of 'coming home'.

Onboarding at Saxion

Saxion University of applied sciences in Enschede also has an 'onboarding' program for students from abroad. “Nuffic's research shows that 30 to 40 percent of international students do not have it easy. That is too large a group,” says student support officer Sven Nijhuis. “Corona has brought the difficulties that were already there to the surface. We have seen a clear increase in conversations with deans and coaches in the last two years.”

The university has had a summer program with social activities for a long time. Sven: “We already did a lot, but we now know how important it is to make that support accessible. We will do this in the form of an online platform, on which we offer students support and facilitate contacts before arrival, to ensure a soft landing.”

‘Understanding the well-being of international students is essential to better support them’

Valuable research

Sven is happy with Nuffic's research. “I like the fact that the outcomes and recommendations have been shared and discussed with stakeholders before publication. In this way the insights of many parties have been taken into account. That's valuable. We will certainly work on the recommendations.”

Elli (Nuffic): “We hope that these insights will further help professionals in the field develop action plans to support international students.”

Utrecht University is determined to give further substance to this, says Simon. “The challenge will be to continue the conversation about well-being as an organisation. That conversation cannot take place without the involvement of the students themselves.”

Olesya: "It's not: oh, corona is coming to an end, we can let the strings loose again. Attention to well-being should be part of your policy for the long term.”

Read the research

Download here the study ‘How is it going with international students at Dutch higher education institutions? A report on study experience and well-being (1.50 MB)

(Nuffic, 2022).

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