Fewer foreign students coming to the Netherlands for preparatory programme

Fewer international students are going to be admitted to study in the Netherlands through a preparatory year. Photo: DUB

Many universities in the Netherlands provide preparatory programmes for international students who do not qualify for a study programme, either because they do not have a high school diploma, or because they come from a country where secondary education is not on a par with Dutch standards. These students have one year to compensate for their deficiency. 

Improper use

Two years ago, the education magazine of the General Education Union (AOb in the Dutch acronym) published a series of articles denouncing the misuse of the so-called transition programmes. Some institutions were using these programmes to attract international students who have no chance of qualifying for a study programme in a year. Doing so is certainly very tempting for the institutions, as students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must pay between 12,000 and 18,000 euros for a preparatory year. If they manage to join a study programme, they pay a much higher tuition fee. 

The National Commission for the Code of Conduct in Dutch Higher Education launched an investigation (report in Dutch, Ed) on the issue and concluded that transition programmes were indeed "a channel for recruiting additional international students that are not yet admissible” and that the checks on their educational level were inadequate.

Five universities (Twente, Tilburg, Rotterdam, UvA and VU Amsterdam) and three universities of applied sciences (HvA, Hanze and The Hague) had outsourced those checks to three private agencies.

The Dutch Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, ordered the Inspectorate of Education to carry out an investigation too. This study only looked at universities, but it analysed not only the preparatory programmes, but also the admission of non-EEA students to Bachelor’s programmes.

Although the exact numbers are unknown, the Inspectorate reports that 4.6 percent (around 2,500 students) of the total intake in 2020 came from countries that don't issue high school diplomas equivalent to those given in the Netherlands. Most of those students come from China (20 percent), followed by Turkey (14 percent), and Russia (8 percent). Some of them have received additional education in their country or have sat an admission exam to be able to study here, while others had to join a preparatory year here. The Inspectorate of Education stresses that this evaluation does not tell the full story of the individual capacities of these students.

Holders of HAVO diploma possibly disadvantaged
The Inspectorate also warns that Dutch holders of a HAVO diploma (senior general secondary education, which qualified them to study at a university of applied sciences but not at a research university like UU) can possibly be harmed by these practices because they cannot take part in a preparatory year.

According to minister Van Engelshoven, that is not a major problem, as HAVO diploma holders have other options if they really do want to attend a university. They can stay at school a bit longer to obtain a VWO diploma or studying at a university of applied sciences for a year. 

Last year, the National Commission for the Code of Conduct in Dutch Higher Education did not advocate abolishing the preparatory year. The minister writes: “In many countries, a five-year general education is the highest achievable level of secondary education, which according to Dutch standards is equivalent to HAVO level.” Consequently, the best students from those countries still get the chance to study in the Netherlands.

According to Van Engelshoven, the universities have now stopped offering a preparatory year for study programmes with an enrolment restriction (the minister was very critical of that) and are working with the universities of applied sciences to introduce stricter selection criteria. The transition programme should then once again be available only to talented foreign students.