Studying in the Netherlands more popular than ever

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The Netherlands is a popular destination for foreign students. Within five years their number has doubled, thanks to the appeal of the country’s high standards and practical approach to higher education. The rain and the pangs of homesickness aside, the Netherlands is a place where foreign students can soon feel at home.

Asmaa Hijej from Morocco is all set. She has opted to study economics and marketing at Maastricht University. Some students receive a scholarship, others have to foot the bill and arrange everything themselves. It is no mean feat to sort out a residence permit, student accommodation and registration with the university and the local authorities. For students from outside the EU, there’s not much time to live it up. Studying hard is the only way to make sure they complete their costly studies in the shortest possible time.

Agriculture and technology
In the 2011-2012 academic year, which kicked off this week, a grand total of 81,700 foreign students from 61 different countries have registered at Dutch universities and colleges. Higher education in the Netherlands enjoys an enviable reputation in emerging nations and developing countries.
Many Dutch university courses are now taught in English, and the courses in agriculture and technology have a particularly good name on the international circuit. Foreign students are also enthusiastic about the emphasis on practical application, the open nature of the classes and the informal contact between students and lecturers.

Sharing a room
Like many other foreign students, Asmaa is staying on a special international campus. It takes some getting used to: “At home I live in a big country house with lots of rooms and a swimming pool. Here I have a single room and I share the kitchen and bathroom.” Taiwo from Nigeria is very happy with his room: “It was all I could do not to jump for joy when they showed it to me,” he grins. Taufiq and Sujayadi from Indonesia are operating on a tighter budget: they are saving money by sharing a room.

All of the students are keen to get to know the Dutch while they are studying here. Ji Wan Qing from China, who is studying food technology at Wageningen, came to the Netherlands with 16 fellow Chinese students. She shares a floor with five of them but she insists “I really want to get to know Dutch students.” Asmaa is pleased to report that it’s easier to make contact here than back home. Javier from Mexico spends much of his time with other Spanish-speakers, but he says he’s enjoying the excitement of discovering an unfamiliar country. “The coffeeshops are different to the ones we have in Mexico,” he jokes.

Pack your paracetamol
Food appears to be a popular antidote to homesickness. The Indonesians have brought instant noodles with them, Javier has a stash of chilli powder and for Taiwo its semolina that does the trick. Ji Wan Qing from China swears by her erhu, a traditional musical instrument. Taufiq from Indonesia has brought Vitamin C and paracetamol, “because Dutch doctors don’t usually prescribe them.”

The rising influx of students from the rapidly expanding BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China) looks set to continue. Nuffic, the Dutch body devoted to international cooperation in higher education, organises special promotional activities in these countries.
The number of Chinese students has stabilised, but last year saw a 14% rise in the number of Indian students heading for the Netherlands. Latin America is still a relatively small fish but Nuffic expects it to become one of the largest suppliers of foreign students in the future. Dutch knowledge can be invaluable when it comes to exploiting the vast natural resources of countries such as Argentina and Brazil.

As for the cutbacks which are hitting the Dutch education sector at present, it would appear that foreign students have little cause for concern. The ‘international classroom’ has been earmarked as a priority: the Netherlands is determined not to jeopardise its worldwide status as a knowledge economy.