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Record number of 328,000 students at universities during coronavirus pandemic: 8% rise in provisional enrolment figures

  • Record number of 328,000 students at universities during coronavirus pandemic: 8% rise in provisional enrolment figures
  • Number of students enrolled at Dutch universities grows by 8%
  • School-leaving examinations in the spring and fewer gap year opportunities lead to even more students
  • International students: increase from Europe, expected decrease from non-EEA countries
  • Doubling of student numbers over the past two decades from 165,000 to 328,000

In the 2020–2021 academic year, 328,000 Bachelor’s and Master’s students will be enrolled at a university. This is a substantial growth of 8% compared to the previous academic year, according to the provisional enrolment figures of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). According to VSNU President Pieter Duisenberg, ‘The number of students has been rising sharply for years. In 2000, there were 165,000 students. Now, 20 years later, there are 328,000. That is a doubling over two decades. Due to the coronavirus crisis, this rise has accelerated even further. This growth spurt increases the pressure on the universities and their employees, which reinforces our plea for structural investment in academic education.’

There are several reasons why so many more students are enrolled in a university degree programme. As a result of the coronavirus measures in secondary education, considerably more pupils passed their school-leaving examinations at pre-university education level this year. In addition, it is likely that fewer school leavers took a gap year due to the coronavirus crisis. This explains the 15% increase in pre-university pupil intake. In addition, the number of higher professional education graduates who embarked on a university Bachelor’s programme rose by 10%. Many of these enrolled in pre-Master’s programmes. The intake for Master’s programmes seems to have increased only very slightly.

Moving on to other levels of education
The higher number of students can also be explained by the fact that, under certain conditions, students were allowed to move on to a Master’s programme even if they still missed a small number of credits for their Bachelor’s programme. Before the coronavirus came along, the ’Bachelor-before-Master’ rule meant that a higher professional education student with a small backlog of credits could not start a university degree programme the following year. Because the rule was relaxed for this academic year, more people moved on from senior secondary vocational education to higher professional education, from higher professional education to university education and from Bachelor’s to Master’s programmes.

Study completion delays
Under normal circumstances, 7% of students drop out in the first year. This has fallen to 5.4%. Because of the coronavirus crisis, alternative agreements were made last academic year about the binding study advice, and universities took a more lenient approach. As a result, first-year students with insufficient credits were still allowed to continue their studies, and the assessment of their progress was postponed for a year. On the other hand, relatively fewer students graduated than expected last academic year due to delays caused by the coronavirus crisis. As a result, more students had to re-enrol in order to pass their final courses.

Duisenberg says, ‘The coming year should reveal the consequences of postponing the binding study advice. It is quite possible that the drop-out rate will increase next year because students incur study completion delays in spite of having been given the go-ahead. As far as study completion delays are concerned, initial studies seem to indicate that, in general, the number of credits obtained is about the same as in previous years.’

On balance, the intake of international students increased slightly compared to last year. With regard to this group, it was notable that the number of EEA students (students from all EU countries plus Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland) increased by between 10% and 12% compared to the previous academic year, despite the travel restrictions in place. On the other hand, there was a decrease in the number of international students from outside the EEA. The exact number will be known in early 2021. It is good that international students still managed to find their way to Dutch universities during the coronavirus crisis. In 2019, the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) calculated that international students had a positive influence on the Netherlands even after their studies.[1] Duisenberg adds, ‘Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the universities have been trying with all their might to continue to offer high-quality teaching. International talents appreciate this quality, as well as the attractiveness of the Netherlands as an open knowledge society with strong connections in Europe and the world.’

The definitive enrolment figures will be known in early 2021.


End of press release

Disclaimer and note to editors:

The figures published today were provided by the Education Executive Agency (DUO) and audited and aggregated by the VSNU in coordination with universities. While the overall image is reliable, it is impossible to break down the figures in greater detail. The definitive figures for the current academic year will become available in early 2021 upon release of the 1cijferHO file, after which the VSNU will make them public.

The Bachelor’s intake is defined as the increase in the number of students who were not previously enrolled in a Bachelor’s or Master’s programme at a Dutch university. The Master’s intake is based on the number of students who enrolled in a university Master’s programme for the first time. The growth in the number of enrolments may differ from the intake, partly due to a lower graduation rate.

With effect from the 2020–2021 academic year, those enrolled in a pre-Master’s programme will be registered centrally. In early 2021, we will have a greater insight into the characteristics of this group. The specifics on nationality and prior education with regard to the provisional figures are not yet entirely accurate. In particular, the breakdown between EEA and non-EEA students is not entirely correct. In the 1cijferHO file, the background characteristics relating to nationality and prior education will have undergone additional checks and be more complete.


[1] ‘The cost-benefit ratio during and after their studies is positive for students from both EEA and non-EEA countries, but the ratio is much greater for students from non-EEA countries’, CPB, Economische effecten van internationalisering in het hoger onderwijs en mbo (Economic effects of internationalisation in higher and senior secondary vocational education), 2019

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