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Why it’s good to go Dutch

Matt Salusbury surveys Holland’s English-medium university provision

Of the fourteen research universities in the relatively small country that is the Netherlands, a dozen appear in the THE World University Rankings Top 200. The ancient university of Leiden leads the pack in 64th place, and there’s a cluster of Dutch universities in the seventies – Delft, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Wageningen University and Research Centre (Wageningen UR), University of Amsterdam and University of Utrecht.

Maastricht University comes in at 101st but holds sixth place in the THE 100 Under 50 rankings for universities founded less than fifty years ago. Groningen and three more Dutch institutions are comfortably within the World University Ranking’s top 150.
Netherlands higher education punches well above its weight, having the highest proportion of top 200 universities per capita of any country.

While many universities on the European mainland now offer most of their postgraduate degrees in English medium, the Netherlands is the only non-English-speaking EU member state where undergraduate degrees are routinely offered in English. We contacted Dutch universities to ask them about their English-medium undergraduate degree operations.

These are often known as university colleges or liberal arts and sciences (LAS) schools and may have a completely different name to their parent university – the University of Utrecht has two: University College Utrecht (UCU) and University College Roosevelt (UCR) in the town of Middelburg. We heard back from four universities – University College Groningen (part of the University of Groningen in the north), UCU, UCR and Wageningen in’to Languages, the language centre of Wageningen UR.

Another selling point that Dutch universities don’t shout about enough is their fees, with ‘government subsidised tuition making it affordable’ according to UCU’s Isolde van Meerwijk. Tuition is a ‘fraction of the price of the best US and UK universities’, according to Maan Lise Leo of UCR. Annual tuition fees quoted to us by various university colleges started at just €2,701 for EU students, or around €12,000 for tuition and accommodation with catering – to between €9,260 and €12,000 for non-EU students. Self-catering on-campus rents for provincial capitals varied between €300 and €450 a month.

Where do students in English-medium university colleges and LAS schools come from? University College Groningen’s Katie Mallon told us that this year’s intake were 10 per cent non-EU, particularly from China, Ukraine and Iceland. UCR’s biggest nationalities were the US and Russia, while UCU’s students outside the EU ‘come from all over the world’. The three-year degree courses on offer at the LAS schools tend to be a broad range, with a generalist first year leading to more specialist courses later. Roosevelt has music, performance or art and design as options, while ‘key research themes’ in Groningen’s English-medium degrees are energy, healthy ageing and sustainable society, taught by University of Groningen medical, natural sciences, social sciences and humanities staff, and for which you need an Ielts of 6.5 or above.

Other attractions of Dutch universities include small class sizes (Roosevelt’s classrooms can fit only 25, smaller than many of its Dutch-medium courses). Groningen cited more ‘interaction with professors’, who are trained to handle international students, and the overall ‘very high level’ of Netherlands higher education. University colleges can be selective, choosing only students with what Groningen calls ‘a strong academic profile’, while UCU selects only one in four applicants, making competition for entry tighter than for many of its Dutch-medium degrees.

Wageningen in’to Languages’s Rosanne Schuurmans said it provides English language support and editing for Wageningen UR students and staff, but the university offers only one fully English-medium degree – tourism management.