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Higher Education in The Netherlands: Setting a new benchmark for International Students

By Laura Smit 

Why study in the Netherlands

In November last year, I was given the chance to visit 5 cities in India to represent the Dutch University I work for: VU University Amsterdam, at a number of QS World Grad School Tour education fairs. One of these cities was New Delhi and there I met this issue’s Guest Editor, Rajdeep Guha, who requested me to write an article on higher studies opportunities in the Netherlands.

After having looked at Cafe Dissensus publications, I realize that having been offered this opportunity is in fact an honor and so, let me not waste more words on this intro and start telling you first about my country the Netherlands, its educational system, the opportunities it offers to young scholars from all parts of the world and finally, give you some tips and tricks on how to be given one of those opportunities.


The Netherlands in short

As you may know, the Netherlands is a tiny country but with a strategic location between the UK and Germany and with a long North Sea coast line (yes, including white sandy beaches), with two major ports leading into Europe − Rotterdam being the largest port of the World as well as Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which over the years has developed into a main port for cargo and passengers setting off to all corners of the world. This strategic position has historically led the country to become a cosmopolitan melting pot and that it remains to this day. All of us speak at least Dutch and English and often 1 or 2 other languages. We come in many colors and sizes and very much respect people from all backgrounds, religions and sexual orientations.

Next to being that melting pot, the Netherlands also has a leading knowledge economy. You may know names like Rembrandt, van Gogh but also Anne Frank and some Dutch inventions like: the Stock Exchange (we will not go into this much further…); the telescope (even though our country is as flat as a coin we wanted to look even further); the submarine, one of my favorites; the chocolate bar, one of my least favorites; the speed camera, and many more. Even during times of economic setback, the Dutch government still very much strives for growth of knowledge through education. One way of doing this is by promoting Dutch education overseas and stimulating talented students from other countries to start their studies at one of our Dutch universities. Every year millions of Euros become available to help talented students from overseas countries make their way to the Netherlands. The aim is to develop them academically. If they prove to be successful, the Dutch government offers them an opportunity to find work and stay to help build the Dutch (and effectively global) economy.

It’s a simple idea, however from a student’s perspective, how does one choose the ‘Dutch tree’ among all those other trees in the global forest?

Dutch Education System – the Practicalities

When choosing a destination for study, there are few important factors to look at. I will go through the ones that students ask me about the most and tell you how the Netherlands count for in these respects:

1: Quality education

It is reassuring to know that pretty much all Dutch research universities end up in the top 100 of global university ranking charts. All study programs offered are accredited by the NVAO, the Dutch and Flemish accrediting body and therefore are internationally recognized.

2: Education affordable to many

In his guest editorial, guest editor Rajdeep Guha mentioned the rookie countries that are offering higher education to international students. The Netherlands can be considered one such rookie country. However, popular destinations like the US, Australia and the UK do come with an impressive price-tag when we are talking about higher education. The Netherlands is not necessarily the cheapest option out there when you’re looking to study abroad but you can be assured of good quality education for a price that is affordable to more than just the elite. Non EU students are generally looking at EURO 12,000 per annum.  Study Portals also have a handy overview of tuition fee rates throughout Europe.

3: Availability of English taught programs

Then, as mentioned before, our second language is English and, even though we speak Dutch to friends and family, English is widely spoken and more importantly, most Master degree programs offered by leading Dutch universities are fully taught in English. Here is a handy tool which helps students search over 2000 available English taught study programmes.

4: Flexible residence permits for graduated students

As the Dutch government tries to keep successful graduates in the country, it is possible to extend the residence permit for 1 more year after graduation. Newly graduated young people can spend this 1 year looking for a job. Many graduates use this year doing internships, visit job fairs, go on interviews or visit other European cities in their search for a good opportunity to start off their professional careers.

5: Healthy career prospects

Many parts of the word have been hit by economic crisis, making it even more important for students to look at career opportunities following the degree programs they choose to invest in. Now, I could simply say that because of the healthy economic climate in the Netherlands it is easy to find a job, whatever your degree may have, but of course that is not true. But the following is true: PhD positions in the Netherlands have employee status and therefore are often paid positions. You have to excel as a Master’s degree student to have a chance to get your foot in the door but if you do, it’s a very attractive deal to many.

In the field of Science and Technology we are experiencing a great lack of qualified professionals. So, if you finish a degree in, for example, computer science here, there’s a 99% chance you will be able to start a well paying job, straight after graduation.

According to the United Nation’s World Happiness Report, we are amongst the world’s happiest people in the world. This is mainly thanks to a healthy balance between career and personal lives. Part-time jobs are more the norm than the exception and holidays are holy.

Tips and tricks for admission

Of course, it is a great big world we live in and happiness can be found in many places but if this article or other information you may have bumped into has sparked your interest, I may be able to give you some tips and tricks on how to work towards admission into a study program in the Netherlands. Although they all sound obvious, I can say from years of experience in student admission that only few students fully stick by the following rules:

1: Create a good academic basis before applying

To get admission into a Dutch research University, you need to have graduated with a Bachelor degree (or equivalent) from an accredited and well ranked research university in your home country (or elsewhere). Courses like ‘research methods’ and ‘statistics’ as well the writing of a thesis or other graduation research project are things admission officers look for on the transcript of records.

If your university is not a top ranking university, it is wise to get your Master’s degree in your home country first, before applying to one in the Netherlands. Also, try to get some experience in the field you’re applying for; take internships, focus on research, write research articles, and, if possible, get your articles published.

2: Be focused

The first thing an admission committee will look at are the reasons why a student is applying for the study program they offer. Don’t forget, these are people who are top researchers in their field and they look for people who have the same drive and focus as they have. Be specific: Why do you want to study with them, and not elsewhere? Don’t spend too many words on your personal life, hobbies, dreams and family. Instead, simply write about your academic background, what professional goal are you working towards and why the chosen program is therefore an obvious choice. No more, no less.

3: Make no mistakes

Always make sure you apply with a complete set of documents, write in perfect English (get people to check it for you) and if you’re applying for more than one university, do not mix up the names in your motivation letters (believe me, it happens a lot)!


4: Be on time

The very best study programs tend to be the selective ones with a maximum number of students. The later you apply, the more fierce the competition. Therefore make sure you apply on time. This will also give you some time to amend applications where needed and get the university to apply for your residence permit/student housing. For early applicants, housing is normally guaranteed; however, if you’re late, finding a place to stay can be a major challenge.

Although the Netherlands is only a small country and may not be an obvious choice to all, it can be the perfect choice for you. If you think it may be, check out these websites, they may give you an even clearer view on whether you can see yourself biking around our flat little country in the near future.


Laura Smit works as an International Student Adviser, Degree Team − International Office, VU University Amsterdam. She can be reached at: Email and Phone no. +31 20 5986205.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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