Binding the internationals

Nieuws | de redactie
20 mei 2013 | The battle for brains is increasingly being fought by all nations. Today’s talents are tomorrows knowledge workers. Lector Jos Walenkamp (The Hague University) studied the key factors that make international students stay abroad after graduation.

Student migration has become an issue of strategic importance. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics shows that the number of globally mobile students is constantly increasing: up to 3.4 million students in 2009 in relation to 2.1 million in 2002. These figures are confirmed by the OECD that saw an increase by 77 per cent of the number of foreign students since 2000.

Beyond economic factors

In terms of international student mobility The Netherlands is no exception. While in 2006 35.092 international students were registered, the figure rose to over 58.000 in 2012.

This rise was accompanied by political analyses outlining that retaining 20 per cent of international students after their graduation would imply economic benefits worth €740 million. Investing in foreign talent was not just a demographic or long term smart move anymore. This awakened the interest of policy-makers who started looking into the factors that make foreign students want to stay in The Netherlands.

Marriage made easier

In the new ‘national pact’ on STEM-studies and careers industry and government concluded that they would invest more attention, money and ‘less regulation’ in attracting and keeping STEM-talents from all over the world. Recently the Dutch Social Economic Council warned the government for not giving enough or structural attention to attracting international talent.

In its latest issue the Dutch economic weekly ESB pointed out that in order to bind international talent, government should ease the rules for marriage and for family reunification.

“This topic has remained rather understudied”, says Jos Walenkamp, specialist in student mobility. He recently published a study of all the factors that can bind internationals. “Most theories focus on economics and familial factors in explaining migration, but also labour market factors, demographics, friendships, and educational or training incentives can play an important role.”

Rome or Amsterdam

Economic possibilities are of great importance to the internationals. But there are more and more varied factors. As one interviewee in the study stated: “If I would be offered a really nice job in Rome, there would be nothing that keeps me here […] but if I would find a challenging job here […] there is nothing that would drive me away either.”

The standard of living in The Netherlands is regarded as high by a vast majority of survey respondents (80.5 per cent). Dutch culture is perceived rather positive, though 18.2 per cent don’t feel welcome in the country. Some respondents also claimed that “contrarily to the popular presumption, the Netherlands is extremely intolerant” and that they feel seriously “underprivileged” as foreigners. Walenkamp shows that this negative remarks are often raised by participants with a Romanian and Bulgarian background.

What’s next?

The study shows that one of the critical factors for staying in The Netherlands after graduation is mastery of the Dutch language. “Here it seems that a majority would expect more support from the university. Some, but not all, departments do offer mandatory Dutch language courses. Interviewees wish that Dutch language courses should be a compulsory part of the curriculum of every international program.”

Another thing that international students expect from their university is better career counselling and concrete support in finding a job. “More than 80 per cent of the respondents did not agree that The Hague University of Applied Sciences sufficiently provides career counselling.”

The unclear recognition of HBO/UAS bachelor degrees might furthermore push students to leave the Netherlands for master studies, simply because their degree is not recognized by Dutch research universities.


  • Concerning the country specific aspects it seems that the most urgent problem is that a significant group of international students (those who do not enjoy all freedoms that come with the EU citizenship) feels underprivileged and excluded due to administrative burdens. As long as these students do face remarkable administrative issues, it seems unrealistic to motivate them to stay and work.
  • At a regional level problems are mainly related to housing. The quality and cost of accommodation has been criticized as unappealing by a good number of respondents regardless of their income.
  • On a personal level, it appears advisable to encourage international students to socialize more with the Dutch people. The same rationale can be extended to the classroom, where policies could promote the international classroom including Dutch students.
  • The two most prominent demands that could be addressed within universities are the availability of Dutch language courses and concrete career counselling. 

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