The Netherlands remains attractive for international graduates

Over half of international students who complete higher education degrees in the Netherlands indicate that they are likely to remain living in the country after they are done with their studies or research. COVID-19 does not appear to have had a major impact on this.

The standard of living and the quality of research and education programmes were the factors most often listed by international graduates as having a positive influence on their decision to live (or continue living) in the Netherlands. The pandemic and the tight housing market, by contrast, have exerted a negative influence on the respondents’ plans to live in the Netherlands.

These were the findings of a new Nuffic study conducted among 409 international students who recently graduated from a Dutch higher education institution or will do so before the end of the year.

Who is most likely to stay in the Netherlands?

In the past year, due to the measures to halt the spread of COVID-19, a portion of the respondents followed their study programme entirely online, from their home country. Among this group, the percentage who plan to live in the Netherlands was considerably lower (46%) than among international students who attended at least a portion of their study programme in the Netherlands (60%).

Of all international respondents, 57% indicated that they were likely or extremely likely to live and work in the Netherlands after they are done with all their studies or research.
Additionally, students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) were more likely to say they plan to settle in the Netherlands than students from countries within the EEA (59% versus 45%).

Figures from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) show that, on average, 50% of international students are still in the Netherlands one year after completing their study programme. Five years after graduation, this drops to around 25%. This percentage is also referred to as the stay rate.

Influence of COVID on stay rates

According to Astrid Elfferich (photo), researcher and project leader of this Nuffic study, the big question was how COVID-19 would impact these numbers.

"If only a small portion of the international graduates was planning to live, or keep living, in the Netherlands, this would be meaningful and potentially have a noticeable, long-term effect on the Dutch research and business communities."

But to Astrid's mind, the results of this study paint a different picture. “Because this has to do with students’ intentions, the findings should be taken with a grain of salt, but based on our research it seems that the effects of the coronavirus have been limited. The current plans of students line up reasonably well with the actual stay rate in the past fifteen years.”

What's more, the largest group of respondents (approximately half) said that the pandemic had no effect on whether or not they planned to settle in the Netherlands. Around 25% of the students said that the pandemic had made them less inclined to live in the Netherlands. Some of them expressed strong negative opinions on how the Dutch government managed the COVID crisis.

But on the other hand, a quarter of the students also indicated that they were more inclined to remain in the Netherlands as a result of the pandemic. The net effect therefore seems to be nil.

The Dutch housing market clearly exerts a negative influence on respondents’ plans.

It is, however, worth noting that a significantly larger portion of students from outside the EEA wish to stay in the Netherlands as a result of COVID-19. Of this group, 26% reported that the pandemic has made them more likely to settle in the Netherlands after they graduate. Only 7% of EEA students said the same.

Dutch housing market

The state of the labour market – whether in their homeland or in the Netherlands – also played an important role when considering options. The Dutch housing market clearly exerts a negative influence on respondents’ plans. One French student described it as ‘horrible’.

For other students, such as Candice Etemesi from Kenya, the Dutch standard of living was the deciding factor: she intends to stay in the Netherlands. “I'm also more connected to the world in the Netherlands”, Candice says. “It offers me greater possibilities, not only in terms of health care, but in the job market as well. The pandemic was very detrimental to the job market in my home country, which means there are more opportunities for my future in the Netherlands.”

Boy Sitinjak from Indonesia also pointed out the strong career opportunities in the Netherlands. “Gaining experience in the Netherlands, through either an internship or a job, is good for my knowledge level and my career. And the Dutch government had a strong response to the pandemic as well. Together, those factors make me want to stay here a while longer.”

Researcher Astrid Elfferich says those sentiments are in keeping with the findings of her research. “The Netherlands remains an attractive country for international talent.”

‘There's still more I'd like to see and do in the Netherlands’

Hannah Jachim, from Vienna (Austria), began a Masters' programme in Urban and Economic Geography at Utrecht University in September 2019.

“I only got to enjoy a few months of normal student life before the pandemic broke out. Actually, I had barely had a chance to explore Utrecht and the Netherlands. Going home wasn't an option for me, because it would have meant giving up my time abroad.

I made it through the lockdown all right, thanks in part to the great people I share a house with: three international students and five Dutch people. We lounged in the sun on the balcony and had dance parties in the living room. If I hadn't had housemates, I think I would have gone back to Vienna.”

“I've decided to stay in the Netherlands for the time being. Despite the relatively pleasant lockdown, I feel like I haven't done enough “living” in the Netherlands yet. There are still so many things I want to see and do, like trying the nightlife in Rotterdam and celebrating King's Day. I have a bucket list! I learned how to ride a bike and appreciate the Dutch directness. I do see myself moving back to Vienna at some point, but for now I've picked the Netherlands.”

‘Unimpressed with the Dutch response to COVID’

Chiara Barbera, Parma (Italy), attended a pre-medical programme at University College Roosevelt. She also completed a minor in Language & Culture. Chiara came to the Netherlands to study in August 2018..

“COVID-19 has made me less inclined to stay in the Netherlands. I'm unimpressed with the Dutch government's approach to the pandemic. As an international student, I immediately noticed how friendly and direct Dutch people are, and how strongly they value their individual freedom. That's great, but I feel like it gets in the way of trying to beat COVID.

Dutch people aren't prepared to give up their freedom, even when it's something as small as wearing a mask. The measures implemented by the Dutch government were either not strict enough or were lifted too soon, which is why we're now dealing with a new surge in the number of cases.”

“Most of the international students I know were less than thrilled with how the Dutch handled the pandemic. Nevertheless, the majority are staying in the Netherlands. And I am, too, although it's mainly because this is where they're offering the Master's programmes that interest me.”

Should I stay or should I go? Read the full report

Download the full report of the study into the plans of international students at Dutch higher education institutions.

How is COVID-19 affecting the plans of international graduates in the Netherlands in 2021? | Nuffic