Success rates: university study programmes

Figures collected at the start of the year on degree certificates obtained have shown that the number of university students obtaining a Bachelor’s degree has grown significantly in recent years. Further analysis shows that not only have more degree certificates been issued, but that students are completing their studies faster: success rates have improved.

Sector success rates

The national success rate is determined based on the number of students that re-enrol after the first year of a university study programme and go on to obtain their Bachelor's degree. The reason for looking at whether students re-enrol after one year is because the first year of study is used to establish whether there is a good match between students and their study programmes. For example, students can transfer to related university study programmes or higher professional education programmes without losing their course credits or student grants and loans.

In 2012 about 26,900 pupils from pre-university secondary education [1] started a Bachelor's programme at a university. After the first year, nearly 92% re-enrolled in university study programmes. Students who did not re-enrol opted for studies at universities of applied sciences (6%) or left the Dutch government-funded education system entirely (2%) [2].


Of the students who continued with university study programmes, 52% went on to obtain a Bachelor's degree within 4 years. Since then the percentage obtaining a Bachelor's degree within 4 years has risen: of the pre-university secondary education pupils who started study programmes in 2012 70% had obtained a Bachelor's degree in 2015.

The number of students who obtained a Bachelor's degree within 3 years (of re-enrolment) also increased: of the 2005 cohort, 23% obtained their degree within three years, and 36% of the 2012 cohort.



Reasons for improved success rates
The rise in success rates can probably be attributed to more than one cause. The agreements concluded between universities and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in 2007 state that universities must do more to increase students' study pace, by increasing programme feasibility and by placing clearer demands on students. This policy is now taking effect.

At technical universities in particular, the transition between Bachelor's and Master's programmes used to be somewhat vague, resulting in students who had not yet completed their Bachelor's programme being allowed to commence a Master's programme regardless. As of the previous academic year, all universities have introduced a ‘clean break’ between Bachelor's and Master's programmes: students may not start a Master's programme until they have completed their Bachelor's programme.


Success rates by sector vs. institution
The VSNU analyses success rates of the sector as a whole, by asking how many students both start and complete a university study programme. The Performance Agreements concluded by universities include institutional success rates, expressed by the numbers of new first-year students who are accepted, who re-enrol at the same institution after the first year, and who go on to graduate. The figures shown here all relate to the sector as a whole; individual universities have different success rates.


[1] Selection criteria pre-university secondary education pupils: highest level of prior education = pre-university secondary education; 1st year participation in higher education; full-time enrolment.

[2] 'Left Dutch government-funded higher education' may mean that students started studying at a non-government-funded institution, left to study abroad, or stopped studying altogether either temporarily or permanently. The ratios of these students cannot be determined.