More enrolments, fewer drop-outs in coronavirus times

A new record 327,000 students have enrolled in universities this academic year, an increase of eight percent over last year. Master's programmes in particular showed exponential growth. And despite current conditions, many European international students still signed up.

photo Rawpixel / Shutterstock

After a rather shaky start to the application season, prospective students made a spectacular sprint for the finish line last summer. Enrolment figures as of 1 October have now been finalised and the universities continue to show increases.

No gap year

For example, the enrolment of first-year Bachelor's students is thirteen percent higher than last year; for the direct inflow from secondary schools that portion was even one percent higher.

Because final exams were cancelled last year, more secondary school students received their diplomas. Many of them immediately applied for university. What's more, a deciding factor is that, in coronavirus times, many young people forgo taking a gap year. A year back-packing through Australia or working as an au pair in Paris isn't so attractive right now.

But this also meant universities waited anxiously to see whether international students would be choosing a school in the Netherlands this academic year. Last May, on the basis of a survey, Nuffic feared that 25 percent of students outside the EEA would not turn up.

Conditional admission

But that turned out not to be the case. Despite measures to contain coronavirus, the total number of international students at Dutch universities has risen by thirteen percent. This increase can primarily be ascribed to the arrival of more EEA students, while for the first time in years the number of students from outside Europe dropped slightly by four percent.

The growth in Master's enrolments is also remarkable: up by nineteen percent in comparison with last year. One possible explanation is the temporary comeback of conditional admissions for students who, due to the coronavirus crisis, have been unable to complete the requirements for their Bachelor's degree, allowing them to start a Master's on certain conditions.

More lenient

Top performing disciplines were economics, law, behaviour & society, and natural science: for these enrolment grew by about ten percent. Programmes in the field of education are also on the rise: last year enrolment declined, but now the number of students has risen by six percent.

It's not only that more first-year students are joining the ranks this year: there were also fewer drop-outs. The reason may be that universities are being more lenient with their standards regarding binding study recommendations, according to the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU).

More on their plate

What this all adds up to is that it will be considerably busier at Dutch universities. But who is going to pay for this? The coronavirus crisis demands a great deal in terms of teaching and student support, VSNU chair Pieter Duisenberg explains. “Student numbers have been growing significantly for years and now during the pandemic universities have even more on their plate.”

The VSNU is in dialogue with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in order to ensure that this time student funding keeps up with the fast-growing numbers in student enrolment. Under normal conditions, funding formulas are only adjusted two years later.

And yet, Duisenberg fears that this kind of one-time-only measure will not solve the problem of increased pressure on universities in the long term. Government will have to make structural increases to the investment in academic research. “That is our message to the next government.”

And what about universities of applied sciences?

With nearly 500,000 enrolments, the universities of applied sciences also hit a record this year, adding about 125,000 first-year students: a gain of ten percent on last year. Programmes for sectors currently experiencing shortages, like teaching and healthcare, are especially popular.

Share this article