As regular readers of this blog will know, I am always happy to include posts from ‘Guest Bloggers’. This blog, the first in a series of blogs on the topic of higher education, comes from Ms. Yamada, our Director of External Relations.
For many of us, our memories of heading off to university involve piling rugs, crockery and rucksacks into the family car, and heading off on the motorway to Exeter, or Edinburgh ….or Sydney...or Dublin...or even Georgetown. At BST however, most of our leavers are boarding a flight, and thinking of shipping and perhaps even visas instead of a three-hour drive with an emotional parent.
Of course, this is true for most international schools, where the very DNA of the school community reaches around the world. Increasingly, however, the higher education market is becoming a global one, and even for those students finishing secondary school in their home country, the idea of going abroad for the duration of your degree is taking hold. Nowhere is this trend clearer than in the UK, where recent increases in tuition costs have launched a thousand google searches and led to a surge in applications abroad.
The shift for thousands of British students has been about 300 miles east, over the English Channel, to The Netherlands, where A Levels are universally welcomed. Universities in Holland are attracting record numbers of applicants from the UK and there has even been talk of adding universities like Amsterdam Groningen, (ranked 59th and 83rd in the world respectively according to the THE Ranking), onto the UK application system, UCAS.
Cost is a Key Incentive
As the application season gets underway, the BBC has reported that ‘open day visits now include trips to Dutch universities, which are pitching themselves as if they were offshore Russell Group institutions’. And indeed, in terms of the very high quality education on offer, the anglophone environment (thousands of courses taught in English) and the competitiveness of entry, they are very similar to Russell Group institutions, but with one enormous difference: the cost.
For EU passport holders (and that’s passport holders, not residents), degrees at universities in Holland cost around €2,000 per year in tuition; for non-EU students, the cost is around €8,500 per year.
Degrees in The Netherlands are very similar to UK degrees in that they are in a single subject or field and they can be completed in three years, although students are often encouraged to study abroad for a year, taking the programme up to four years. These ‘traditional’ degrees are offered at Research Universities - like Utrecht, Maastricht and Amsterdam. Last year, we sent a number of students on to these sorts of courses; Amy our Head Prefect, went on to International Relations and Law at Leiden.
For students who are looking for a more flexible model, like US Liberal Arts Colleges, the Dutch system has the perfect option: University Colleges. These are smaller institutions, within universities, offering the flexibility of classes in arts and sciences, engineering and humanities: a personalised curriculum They were founded with the idea of creating small scale, fully residential, immersive learning communities and these courses have attracted large numbers of students from around the world.
This year, at Amsterdam University College, the students are 50% Dutch and 50% international, with BST alumnus Raiyu making up those numbers: he’s in his first year studying Liberal Arts and Sciences. He choose the course because it allowed him flexibility within ‘Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences: you don’t have to pick a field until the end of your second year’. Raiyu is planning the Literature track within the Humanities but has the freedom to do some History, Psychology, or even to pick up Dutch. Indeed, he might change his mind and end up with a BSc Psychology. University Colleges are often oversubscribed, and it's not unusual to be asked for Russell Group-style grades; University College Utrecht, for example asks for AAB for entry to its Liberal Arts course.
These smaller colleges charge a bit more, around €4,000 per year for EU passport holders and €12,000 for non EU students, but this still compares very favourably with the same sort of academic experience at an equivalently ranked US Liberal Arts College.
Universities of Applied Sciences
The Universities and University Colleges are complemented by the final option: Universities of Applied Sciences. These are vocational, profession-oriented degrees, which often have slightly lower entry requirements, compulsory internships and a more practical, 'hands on' approach. If you're interested in Fashion and Business; Digital Design, Midwifery, Hospitality Management or Fine Art, for example, then Universities of Applied Sciences are for you. They sometimes offer shorter 'associate degree' qualifications, as well as diplomas, and the tuition fees are similar to Research Universities. The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, where Ain (who left BST this summer) is completing her degree, is one of these Universities of Applied Sciences.
Most Dutch degrees can be applied for using the Studielink application system, which is, like many other things in The Netherlands, clear, efficient and cheap. Final decisions are almost almost arrived at by April, but often a lot earlier. Application essays, predicted grades, references and academic records are often required, but interviews are common too, with the option of using Skype, naturally.
EU students are able to apply for interest free or very cheap loans to help with the cost of tuition, and help with accomodation can be applied for too, depending on the type of accomodation in which you live.
Find yourself in your 'Search Year'
For non-EU students, there are plenty of other advantages to going Dutch: you can apply for a one year visa to cover your search year: the year you might spend trying to find the right job, and once you've found a job, getting the visa is a simple process.
The Netherlands has been a centre of learning for hundreds of years with universities such as Leiden established in 1575, Groningen in 1614 and Amsterdam in 1632. These institutions consistently rank in the top 2% globally. As well as this, there's a prosperous economy, home to multi-nationals such as Unilever, ING and Shell; high levels of safety, and (almost) everybody speaks English.
A Growing Trend
Talking to this year's Year 13, there's a buzz about Dutch universities that's fizzing down into Year 11 and 12, and colleagues at other international schools in Tokyo are seeing the same trend. Certainly, exceptional value is one part of it, but the sense of being in the very centre of Europe, culturally and geographically, is a factor too. For Amy, where better to study International Law than The Hague? And Ain is only a short bicycle ride in the (perhaps elusive) sunshine from Vermeer's celebrated Girl with the Pearl Earring...Is it any wonder so many BST families are going Dutch?