Every year round about this time, when we find ourselves at the peak of the madness of the application season at VU University Amsterdam, I keep asking myself this question: What drives students to choose our little corner of the world to study in, and why VU University? We speak and meet students from all hidden parts of world, with different backgrounds, religions, colours, shapes and sizes. They have often cross many borders and leave family and friends behind to come to the Netherlands, a country known for its tulips, waterworks, liberal laws, and endless flat fields filled with black and white cows.
What is it exactly that makes students pick this tiny little part of the world, out of the thousands of wonderful places that can be found on this globe? Sara Naqwi is one of the many examples. For her it was a combination of reasons; The availability of a study programme that sparked her interest and maybe the need for something completely different than what she was used to. But, what ingredients does the perfect place for study consist of for most?
I have done some research and in combination with some personal experiences (I was the typical international student once…) I came up with the following list of questions that students most probably try to find the answer for, before making their life-changing decision on where to study in this world:
1. Which country do I want study in?
2. What is the quality of the university?
3. Is the right study programme available in a language that I speak fluently?
4. How much does it cost?
Of course you are interested in how well the Netherlands, Amsterdam and in particular VU University do when looking at the above questions. So let’s have a look:
Quality of Life
How well does the Netherlands do when looking at points like quality of life, climate and matters such like. In Quality of Life index published by the OECD, we score pretty well, number 8 of 34 countries measured within the developed world. And, what’s more, we score extremely high in the OECD’s programme for International Student Assessment with an average of 519 (the OECD average is 497).
The perfect climate is of course based on personal preferences. The Netherlands has it all: winter, spring, summer and autumn. Sometimes even spread over a single day. All this makes that our black and white cows can however enjoy the greenest fields of the world.
Quality of education
When people decide to look further than their own country borders for finding suitable education, all of a sudden, there are countless universities to choose from. This makes it extremely difficult to find out for sure, whether the quality of the education offered (and therefore the value of the diplomas awarded) is in fact of a high enough standard.
In the Netherlands the quality of education is something we are proud of. On the third of December 2013 the last ranking table was published by the OECD*, who charted educational standard across the developed world. And although it was a close call, we made it in the top 10! Listed 10th, scoring better than pretty impressive names like for example Germany (16), Australia (19) and the US (36). Are we proud? Yes, we are a little.
These days, most students will also refer to worldwide university rankings to ensure themselves that they are properly preparing themselves for a successful future. University rankings are being criticized due to the fact that scores can be easily manipulated and there are difficulties in view of the natural sciences and medicine vs. social sciences bias. However, students do need to be able to refer to something when making their choice.
The most commonly used rankings available are:
Times Higher Education (VU – 144)
Shanghai Ranking (VU – 101-150)
Leiden University Ranking (VU – 64)
English taught study programmes can be found all over the world, but maybe not as much as one would expect these days. In bigger European countries like France, Italy and Spain, they are still a rarity. However, in more northern parts of Europe, there is a steep growth in the offer of English taught study programmes. When looking at the numbers displayed on StudyPortals.eu, the Netherlands is in fact the biggest provider in Europe (of the non-English speaking countries of course).
Cost of education
For most people in the world, getting an international education is still an unaffordable luxury or at least a serious investment. Cost of education is therefore for most students we meet, definitely an issue. Within Europe the price tags connected to education differ greatly. Studyportals, again offers a very handy overview of the differences in cost per country. In the Netherlands, prices are mid range in comparison to the rest of Europe. For most talented students, very good scholarship options are available that will cover most expenses.
So, by looking at the above indicators it seems fairly obvious that a choice to complete your education in the Netherlands, and possibly at VU University Amsterdam seems to be a perfect one if you are looking to study in a thriving economic climate at a well ranked university. But in the end strong individual capacity in combination with a natural drive to success is what makes students successful, whether they study at a ‘brand name’ university in a popular capital city, or not.
In my case however, it was great to find out that after having spent many years abroad, for me Amsterdam is the best place to live in. A city with a town spirit where people from all over the world have been finding their homes for hundreds of years. I’ve met many international students over the years and in every single case they loved the time they spent with us. I was lucky enough to see them develop from young and curious individuals to self-confident and talented professionals. Many of them went back to use their new skills and knowledge in their home countries but there is also quite a large number of people that found jobs in Amsterdam and surrounding areas. Whatever your personal choice may be; It is a great big world we life in and happiness can be found in many places. Amsterdam most definitely is one of those places.