Pandemic over, student drop-out higher

In the last academic year a lot more first-year students pulled out of their study programme than in the two preceding coronavirus years. More seniors threw in the towel as well.

Photo by: Frans Nikkels

According to new figures, around 12 percent of first-year students at universities of applied sciences quit their studies in the coronavirus years 2019/20 and 2020/21. In the last academic year (2021/22) the level returned to that of previous years: around 15 percent.

The first-year drop-out at research universities has increased too, from around 5 percent in the coronavirus years to 7 percent in 2021/22. That is higher than in previous years, when the drop-out rate was around 6 percent.

1.6 billion euros

The figures come from a report about the National Education Programme, the aim of which is to combat the consequences of the coronavirus crisis in education. Higher education institutions received roughly 1.6 billion euros for the years 2021-2023.

The drop-out among seniors has risen too, especially at universities of applied sciences: from 6 to 8 percent. The impact has not been as great at research universities. At the moment, the drop-out among seniors there is around 3 percent, roughly the same as before the coronavirus crisis.

During the coronavirus crisis the institutions made changes to the binding recommendation on continuation of studies (BSA). That was the case in the academic year 2021/22 as well. The norm was lowered again in that year because of the coronavirus measures.

From: Third progress report National Education Programme, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

Drop-out in first year and senior years, hbo (universities of applied sciences) and wo (research universities).

Additionally, examination requirements were relaxed in secondary education. In a letter to the House of Representatives Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf and Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Dennis Wiersma write of the ‘flip side’ of this, namely that students ‘start their further education with, on average, increasingly low exam grades and less developed skills’. The Ministers say those students are ‘more likely to drop out’.


According to the report, the higher education institutions have now spent around 30 percent of the National Education Programme budget. So the allocation is apparently ‘up to speed’. In senior secondary vocational education more than 50 percent of the budget has already been used.

The areas in which the institutions are spending the money include student well-being. They are deploying extra student psychologists or are offering more support to students with an impairment. ‘But the policy for certain groups, such as LGBTI students or students with a migration background, is currently still inadequate’, the report says.

And how much should they be doing? The government is aware that the education sector is struggling with that question. ‘An educational institution is not like a healthcare institution and doesn’t have the necessary expertise when the issues become tougher and more complicated’, the Ministers write. ‘Unfortunately, because of the problem of waiting lists students don’t always get quick access to the right specialists.’ They promise to get back on that.

The Ministers regard the pace of the allocation as a good sign. They expect the institutions ‘in broad terms’ to have utilised virtually the entire budget by the end of 2023. The recording of the expenditure is, however, not always in such good shape. ‘Unfortunately, not all the institutions have provided accounts in accordance with what was agreed’, the Ministers admit in the letter.

Work placements and residencies

The report also mentions problems with work placements. Teacher training programmes are doing their best to reduce the arrears caused by school closures, for example with a virtual-reality application ‘that helps in the teaching of classroom management skills’.

Medical students suffered many months of delay because residencies were not able to go ahead during the crisis – and the waiting time was significant even before that. A survey shows that institutions have now created extra residency positions.

Nevertheless, large numbers of prospective doctors took a gap year after getting their Bachelor’s degree. As many as one in three skipped the academic year 2021/22 and did not start straight away on their Master’s programme. The report says that ‘the reason for this is unclear’.

Stay tuned

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.