University: Oxford on the polders
30 August 2011
Easier and cheaper enrolment plus courses taught in English: for young Brits, studying in the Netherlands is the fashionable new trend for escaping the problems besetting universities back home.
Ritwik Swain, 19, believes that moving to Holland to study is at the cutting edge for UK students. A year ago, he had never heard of Groningen and knew nothing about Dutch universities. Two weeks later he was staying in a youth hostel and already signed up for a degree in psychology. He has no regrets. “I'm doing something that is still rare among British students,” he says over the phone. “I’m picking up international experience and I’m saving a lot of money.”
Swain wanted at first to get into the University of Warwick, which he considered the best university in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge. Before his finals he sent an application with a cover letter, resume and letters of recommendation to five British universities. Three made him an offer: he could enrol on condition that he obtained an A and two Bs in his A-levels. On “results day”, the day in August when schools publish the A-level results, it turned out he had two Bs and a C. “I could go to university in Coventry, but it’s a lot worse than Warwick,” Swain says. And so he began looking for another option. Less than two weeks later, he found himself in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands is now the third most popular country
After this summer many more of his compatriots are likely to come join him. The number of students that fail to find a place in a British university is constantly going up. With fees now reaching £9,000 (more than €10,000), more and more of them are hunting abroad.
Holland, where the British can enrol in college for €1,700 a year, appears to have a fresh breeze in its windmills. The University of Maastricht, which has eight bachelor degree programmes in English, has so far received 450 pre-registrations from the UK. Perhaps not all of the applicants will come, but the interest is markedly higher than it was the year before. Hundreds of students have also already registered in Groningen, which offers nine bachelor degree programmes in English.
“Among Europeans, the British are traditionally the least keen on leaving home,” explains entrepreneur Mark Huntington, who in 2006 created an agency to inform British students of study courses abroad. “The few times they did travel abroad, they went to Australia or the United States.” European universities aroused little interest and Dutch universities even less.
In the last two years, though, this has changed at a breakneck pace. Where two years ago one in ten secondary school students requested information on the Netherlands, this year over half wanted to know more. “The Netherlands is now the third most popular country, after Australia and the United States,” said Huntington, who this year is recruiting students for ten Dutch institutions.
Dutch institutions are happy to greet the Brits
“The main reason the British are interested in studying in the Netherlands is money,” Huntington admits. But the content is important too. “The programmes in the Netherlands often have a more practical focus and better prepare one for professional life. And in the United Kingdom, having a degree is not in itself exceptional. One must stand out in the labour market.”
The Dutch institutions are happy to greet the Brits. “For us, it’s a new but important group, as hearing native English speakers is good for other students,” said a spokesman for the University of Groningen. British students also raise the international profile of Maastricht University – provided they are motivated, the spokesman adds. “Over in the UK, once you enter the university, you’ve succeeded. Here it’s easier to get in, but one can get left behind more easily too during the studies. The British must grasp this well.”