A quarter of the intake at universities comes from abroad
A quarter of the intake at universities comes from abroad

Image: YF&M

The hunt for the international student

British and Australian recruitment agencies are quietly settling on Dutch campuses. They promise to increase the international influx. And ask for 18 thousand euros for a transition year.

The Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) had to rent Carré Theater for the second year in a row in September to accommodate all first-years. The UvA is building a new lecture hall on the Roeterseiland campus that can accommodate a thousand students, but it will be ready in 2020 at the earliest. So Carré lectures will probably be scheduled again for the coming academic year.

Since the faculty started its English-language bachelor's degree in business administration three years ago, the intake has grown explosively. Thanks to the influx from abroad. Previously, about 1100 students started one of the economics bachelor's programs every year. Last September there were 1766, including 741 international students.

A quarter of the intake at universities comes from abroad

National records have also been broken this academic year. In September, more than 36 thousand international students started their studies in Dutch higher education, according to figures published by the Association of Universities and the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences at the end of January. An increase of 12 percent, which is mainly due to university bachelor's programs, where international intake grew by 23 percent. International enrollment in university master's programs increased by 8 percent. This means that a quarter of the intake at universities comes from abroad.

In higher professional education, the international intake increased by 4 percent and 9 percent of the first-years come from abroad. It looks like growth there will increase further. Saxion, with offices in Enschede, Deventer and Apeldoorn, announced at the beginning of this year that the university of applied sciences will recruit more international students. Due to the population decline in the eastern Netherlands, the number of Dutch students will decline by 10 percent in the coming years. Because funding is linked to the number of students, the budget also falls. "If we do nothing, three hundred full-time jobs will disappear," said President of the Executive Board Anka Mulder in her New Year's speech. Saxion already attracts 2700 foreign students, 10 percent of the total population. To enable further internationalization, the university of applied sciences will gradually switch to bilingualism.

Recruiting agents

The lecture desks do not automatically fill up as soon as an institution offers education in English. This may apply to specialized universities such as TU Delft and Wageningen, which are known all over the world. They don't have to do much about marketing because interested students will know where to find them. But things are different for a college or university that is entering the international market with a bachelor's degree in business administration.

The market is dominated by big money and universities from Anglo-Saxon countries rule it

In the Netherlands, students can already choose from forty English-language business programs, and there are more than four hundred throughout Europe. So institutions have to actively recruit and end up in a super competitive market where big money rules and universities from Anglo-Saxon countries rule. International students prefer to go to the United States. Australian and British universities, which have become dependent on international intake due to budget cuts, are hunting for international students who cannot attend the US.

Australian and UK universities almost all use local recruiting agents who receive a fee for each student who submits them. But they usually remain silent about this. From a survey by the British think tank The observatory on borderless higher education in 2014, it appears that about a third of the 4,5 million international students end up at a university through such a commercial recruiter. The fee that the recruiting agents receive is 10 to 15 percent of the tuition fees, an average of 1500 euros.

According to the researchers, the Netherlands had 'a less developed agency culture' in 2014, but an estimated 20 percent of international students in our country were recruited through a paid agent.

'If an Australian university pays $ 2000 and we pay 750 euros, the agent will of course have an incentive to send a student to Australia'

“Colleges traditionally recruit more with agents because they are not international rankings standing ”, explains Monique Swennenhuis. She is chair of Dhenim, the network for international marketers of universities and colleges, and she herself works at Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen. But universities are also increasingly working with agents, she knows. Especially in countries such as China and Indonesia, where students and their parents almost always seek advice from an agent before registering at a foreign university. Recruitment agencies have contracts with dozens and often even more than a hundred universities, so they can refer any student who comes to their office to a suitable university, says Swennenhuis.

Their advice is of course not completely independent. “If an Australian university pays $ 2000 and we pay 750 euros, the agent will of course have an incentive to send a student to Australia,” she admits. But you shouldn't exaggerate the role that commercial recruiters play, says Swennenhuis. “About 15 percent of international students come to us through an agent. And every student must meet our quality requirements. ”

International intake is growing rapidly at Tilburg University, especially in the bachelor's degree programs. 30 to 40 percent of international students arrive through commercial channels, says Omid Feyli, team leader marketing & recruitment. Those are not just traditional agents. “We have recently started experimenting with what I call digi agents. These are entrepreneurs who know the local student market well. They set up a portal in which you buy a page at a starting rate. Then they work on a no cure, no pay basis. ” Feyli is enthusiastic about the digi agents because they have a much greater reach than agents with a physical office. And by analyzing the data traffic you know exactly what the online activities yield.

Spicy priced

In more ways, commercial recruiters squeeze between international students and the institutions they want to go to. Large internationally operating companies such as Oncampus, Study Group, Into, Kaplan and Navitas promise to increase the international influx of their partners on their websites. They do this by enlarging the pond in which they fish.
International students who do not meet the admission requirements can improve their qualifications in a transition year, after which they are admitted. The transition program is provided by the recruitment agency and is preferably offered on the partner's campus, so that a transition student can already feel part of the university community. When recruiting for the program, the recruiters immediately benefit from the reputation of the partner university.

In the transition year, students not only bring their English to the desired level, as is also the case with prep courses that universities often offer themselves. Students also improve their study skills and bring their professional knowledge to the desired level. They pay the main price for that. A preparatory year at Oncampus costs 17.895 euros. By way of comparison, a bachelor's student from outside the EU pays 9280 euros per academic year at the UvA's Faculty of Economics.

When Study Group, Into and Kaplan turned up on the campuses of English universities twelve years ago, ECU, the union for higher education, resisted. The union objected to privatization, the substandard students who recruit the recruitment agencies and the concealing marketing language they use on students. But in the Netherlands, these recruiters could get to work in silence.


The British Oncampus, part of the Cambridge Education Group, has been working with the UvA for seven years and is part of the economics faculty. Oncampus focuses on international students from outside the EU with a prior education that does not fit well with Dutch higher education. Chinese students, for example. In the Netherlands, they can only start a university bachelor if they are after the Chinese high school, in principle at HAVO level, having studied at a Chinese university for a year. At Oncampus, after the transition year, Chinese havists can transfer to an economics bachelor or an interdisciplinary study in politics, psychology, law and economics. Provided they get the required scores on the final tests.

Han van Dissel, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business, sees Oncampus primarily as an additional recruitment channel that increases the diversity of the intake. "Every year we receive about two hundred students through Oncampus and they are demonstrably doing better than other international students." Van Dissel believes that these students must have parents who can allocate 18 euros for a transition year.

The end of the growth in the number of international students is not yet in sight

Concurrent Study Group, also British, opened its own center in Amsterdam in 2014 and is adding international students who want to transfer to VU, Erasmus University, Hanze University of Applied Sciences or Tilburg University. The question is whether it will be possible to increase the international influx of those partners. Hanze University of Applied Sciences only receives five to ten students per year via the transition year, reports Monique Swennenhuis. In Tilburg it concerns eight to ten students per year. “It's by-catch for us,” said Omid Feyli. "But they are good students who more often meet the standard for binding study advice than other international students."

But the University of Groningen did not renew the contract with Study Group when it expired last year. Because the quality of the students was lower than expected, a university spokesperson reports. The University of Twente and the Haagse Hogeschool have also dropped out. They are partnering with Navitas, which offers a preparatory year from September on the campuses in The Hague and Twente. This Australian giant has a stock market value of 1,25 billion euros and expects the number of international students to grow from 4,5 to 7 million in the coming years. Navitas apparently expects these students to choose the Netherlands as their study country more often. The end of the growth in the number of international students is therefore not yet in sight.

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