Expat Essentials

Expat Essentials: Dutch universities offering more English-only classes to lure internationals

The rest of the world might be retreating from globalism, but not the Dutch.

Universities in the Netherlands are not only introducing more and more classes in English, but the government is increasingly inviting internationals to fill a projected talent gap.

635917201489164589-80345499_international-studentsThe Amsterdam-based de Volkskrantger newspaper recently ran a post about their survey indicating that about 60 percent of college courses in the Netherlands now are in English … 70 per cent of master’s degrees. The analysis was based on 1,632 degree courses at 13 of the country’s research-intensive universities.

As you might expect, this generated a fair amount of push-back. Other surveys found Dutch students are increasingly struggling with English classes in their own country, with kids showing up for required classes only to find out they’re in English. (And sometimes poor English.) Some even have to go back and take English classes to keep up. (Imagine American college students showing up at State U. to find their biology class is in Spanish, and only Spanish!)

Dutch educators respond they’re not just producing a more competitive domestic talent pool, but an international business culture that will be a model for the rest of the developed world.

On the Higher Times Education website, Robert Tijssen, science and innovation studies chairman at Leiden University, stated he believes more European countries will follow the Netherlands’ lead.

Tilburg University

Tilburg University

From the post:

I expect more European countries will be going in this direction, especially the smaller nations with open societies and service-intensive, international trade-oriented economies; their university graduates will benefit most from enjoying dual-language higher education.

We’ve written often that going to university in Europe is an under-appreciated option for American parents. Today, Dutch journalist Jessy de Cooker has a post on Tilburg University, where our daughter Lucy is enrolled.

We chose Tilburg for a lot of reasons, but its proximity to Eindhoven, where Dispatches is based, was a top consideration.

As an expat lifestyle website, we tend toward making it sound like going to school in Europe is easy. It’s not. It’s complicated.

The Pluses

For Lucy, the tuition for the 2016/2017 academic is about $9,000, or 8,300 euros. That’s exactly the same as we paid at Eastern Kentucky University for her freshman year after deducting her scholarships and money based on state academic credits.

Now, here’s the cool thing: Lucy got a 50-percent scholarship at Tilburg, which drops her tuition down to the equivalent of $4,600 for a full year excluding books, housing and transportation.

The Negatives

Unfortunately, we ran into some after-the-fact small print: Lucy was conditionally enrolled because she didn’t have 31 credit hours from EKU. So, she has to take an entrance exam based on materials she’s never had in the classroom.

Here was another after-the-fact surprise: Lucy applied, did a Skype interview, was accepted and received a scholar BEFORE school administrators informed us we have to have a $12,000 account to cover her “financial support” for the year. This is odd because she’s living at home, and we’re picking up all her expenses. But school officials are inflexible on this point. Oh, by the way, we don’t get this money back. BUT, we can use it to pay tuition and all her other expenses. Which, compared to her dream schools such as Indiana University and the University of Tennessee, is the best deal ever.

Here’s our question: Why is Tilburg in particular doing this? Is it because they’re getting more money from non-EU students? Dutch and EU students only pay about 1,200 euros per year.

I’m telling you all this so you don’t think sending your kids to the Netherlands is going to be as easy as enrolling them at State U. It isn’t. But it can be done if you start early.

But, you do your kids four favors:

1 – They won’t graduate with $100,000 in undergrad debt, which is increasingly common in the U.S. (Annual tuition at Indiana University, for example, for out-of-state students is $46,000 including directs costs — tuition, housing and books and supplies.)

2 – They’ll graduate in three years, which means a 25-percent built-in discount over U.S. undergraduate programs.

3 – They’ll have an international degree from a fairly prestigious university … which makes them more attractive to American graduate school programs.

4 – They’ll become far more sophisticated and adventurous people, with broader world views. In just a few days, Lucy has met students from Cypress, the Netherlands, Ireland and the United States.

A note: Tilburg is – for Americans – a great deal, but it’s not the highest-ranked school in the Netherlands. Tilburg is ranked by Times Higher Education at 15th in the Netherlands, and 201st in the world. BUT, its economics program IS highly ranked, as is its psychology program.

The Keuzegids Guide, a university directory compiled by an independent, non-profit consumer organization, just gave Tilburg its “Top Rated Program” designation and number one ranking when compared with all Dutch programs in the fields of economics and business economics in the Netherlands.

Here’s the list of top-rated Dutch universities:




Wageningen is between Utrecht on the west and Arnhem in the east, and is about 70 miles southeast of Amsterdam. This is one of the top life-sciences universities in the world.

Wageningen University and Research Center is one of the world’s top life sciences and social sciences, with a focus on agriculture and environmental sciences. (For having a tiny piece of real estate, the Netherlands is a big country. In addition to cheese, Holland is one of the world’s largest producers of blueberries. Who knew!)

Most of the undergraduate science curricula are taught partly in Dutch and partly in English, but about 40 undergraduate and postgraduate programs are taught solely in English. International students make up about 20 percent of the student body.

The relevant stats:

  • 9,248 students
  • Student:Staff Ratio 17
  • International Students: 21 percent
  • Female:Male Ratio 56:44




This is the largest university in the Netherlands with more than 30,000 students. It’s also one of the oldest in Holland. U of A offers about 150 degrees taught in English, attracting more than 3,000 international students from more than 100 countries, according to the Times Higher Education post. We think it’s cool that Amsterdam is in pretty good company on the list, just six places below Brown University, an Ivy League stalwart, and four below Ecole Normal Superior, the school of the French elite. It is ranked among the top 30 universities in Europe and the top 100 worldwide … and you’re going to school in freakin’ Amsterdam!

Relevant stats:




Utrecht is a big city (fourth-largest in Holland) about 20 miles south of Amsterdam, and the university here has a big reputation. But it’s probably the least international school on this list … only 7 percent of its 7,000 students are international. Utrecht is famous here for shaping the Netherlands’ 19th century ‘Golden Age’ of scientific research and discovery, according to Times Higher Education, with 12 Nobel Laureates among alums or faculty members.

Relevant stats:

  • ~31,000  students
  • Student:Staff Ratio 15.4
  • International Students: 7%
  • Female:Male Ratio 59:41




Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) near The Hague is the largest and oldest public technical university in the Netherlands, founded as a royal academy for civilian engineers, partly to educate civil servants who would work for the Dutch East India Company, according to Times Higher Education. TU Delft ranks in the Top 20 in the world for engineering and technology, and in the top 50 for life sciences. It’s one of two tech schools along with Eindhoven University of Technology, or TU/e, which didn’t make the list.

Delft was also just named to Reuter’s inaugural list of the 100 most innovative universities in Europe at No. 7, one position above Oxford University.

Delft is famous for the sloping green “lawn roof” on its library (at right).

Relevant stats:

  • ~16,000 students
  • Student:Staff Ratio 19.4
  • International Students: 25%
  • Female:Male Ratio 26:74



800px-SydneyUniversity_MainBuilding_PanoramaLeiden University

 just south of Amsterdam is the oldest university in the Netherlands, established in 1575 by William of Orange. Philosophers such as Spinoza and Descartes were at Leiden during the Dutch Golden Age of art and commerce. Sixteen Nobel Prize winners have been affiliated with the university, including Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi. This is where the Dutch Royal family often sends its children, according to Times Higher Education. Which is good enough for us. More than 200 degrees are taught in English at the university, both at the undergraduate and postgraduate level, and about 100 nations are represented in the student body. The school educational approach is focused on small class sizes and individual learning.

  • ~21,000 students
  • Student:Staff Ratio 17.1
  • International students:  10%
  • Female:Male Ratio 59:41

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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