The number of Dutch students attending universities in Flanders in northern Belgium has increased for the 10th year in a row. Universities and politicians in Belgium are concerned about the trend, particularly because of the costs and the poor performance of Dutch students.
Over the past four years growth in the number of Dutch students in Belgium has been especially high. Their number has increased by 50% to more than 6,000.
One of the main factors pushing Dutch students towards neighbouring Belgium – especially the region where people mostly speak Flemish, which is close to Dutch – is tuition fees, which are €1,771 (US$2,300) in The Netherlands against €578 (US$752) in Belgium.
Doing further study sets a student back between €4,000 and €20,000 in The Netherlands, while Belgian students only have to pay a tuition fee once.
Another important factor driving many Dutch students to Belgium is that there is no limit to numbers of places in fields such as veterinary science and medicine, as there is in Holland. These studies are particularly popular among Dutch students, and last year half of first-year veterinary students in Belgium came from The Netherlands.
In Belgium there is a lively debate about the costs of Dutch students.
“It is a problem when we finance a big group of students, who are not part of our society. After graduating most of the Dutch students return to The Netherlands,” said Noel Vercruysse, director of higher education at the Flemish Ministry of Education, in the Belgian newspaper De Standaard.
He stressed that neighbouring countries should adjust their higher education policies. “In some European Union countries education is extremely expensive and it burdens other countries,” said Vercruysse, adding that each student in Belgium cost society €10,000 a year.
Flemish higher education managers have already hinted that a quota for Dutch students could be a solution. The rising number of Dutch students has also been discussed in the Belgium parliament.
A popular destination is the University of Antwerp. This year its number of new Dutch students rose from 658 to 917. Another is the University of Ghent, which has 346 new Dutch students compared to 246 last year. In Hasselt, the number of Dutch students doubled this year.
Another reason why Dutch students are criticised is because they do not perform well. In Antwerp only 45% attain all credits for the first year – 20% less than students from Belgium. A third of Dutch students stop studying during the first year.
The University of Ghent has had similar experiences. Only 8% of Dutch students receive all credits in the first year compared to 35% of their Belgian colleagues.
Another reason for the flight to Belgium could have been Holland’s langstudeerboete, a €3,063 fine for students who take more that one extra year to graduate. Not wanting to pay the langstudeerboete might have persuaded many students to study in Belgium. The fine could also be the reason behind a sudden rise in students in the humanities.
But that reason has since fallen away. The langstudeerboete, which was introduced on 1 September, has now been cancelled.
Elections on 12 September in The Netherlands were won by the liberal VVD party and the labour party PvdA, and they are trying to form a ruling coalition. They have already decided to cancel the langstudeerboete, and fines already paid by students will be reimbursed.
The fine was deeply unpopular among students, who protested against it and even challenged it in court. Student unions are delighted that it has been cancelled.
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