Students are 'disappearing'

Universities of applied sciences suspect they're being used for migrant smuggling

Photo: pxhere

The newspaper calls them "disappearing students": young people from countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Nigeria who get a student visa because they are enrolled in a Dutch university of applied sciences, but once they are in the Netherlands, they vanish. 

The Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences was the first one to sound the alarm, two years ago. They suspected that their Master's programmes were being used as a means to immigrate to the Netherlands illegally. That's why the institution requested to impose stricter language requirements for new students. At the time, the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences had never heard of the problem.

Weak spots
Now it has, according to NRC's article. The association has the impression that migrant smugglers are looking for "weak spots" in the Dutch higher education system. Sometimes a certain study programme “suddenly gets fifty identical enrolments from a particular country”, according to Arnaud Stadermann, Internationalisation Coordinator. Then, the same happens with another programme.

The universities of applied sciences are working on a guideline to deal with this. They have come to the conclusion that the intake procedure for international students needs to be improved. For example, the institutions should require students to have sufficient resources to stay in the Netherlands and transfer the tuition fee in full, all in one go.  

It should be noted, however, that the Dutch universities of applied sciences do not admit just anyone. As an example, NRC mentions Inholland, which only admitted 19 people out of 94 applications. Of those 19, four subsequently dropped out of the programme.

Fairly common
The fact that many students drop out does not necessarily mean there is migrant smuggling going on. After all, such drop-out rates are fairly common at universities of applied sciences. In the years before the Covid-19 pandemic, around 15 percent of those enrolled in this type of higher education institution pull out in the first year of study. At Inholland, the figure has sometimes been 20 percent.

In 2009, the Inspectorate of Education addressed the problem as well. The inspectors verified the recruitment of foreign students and found that, at the eight institutions investigated, around 200 students had left for an "unknown destination". One private university of applied sciences was even closed down because of alleged migrant smuggling. However, five years later the owners were acquitted by the courts.