Educational expansion in the Netherlands: better chances for all?

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Higher education in the Netherlands has expanded rapidly in the last two decades, giving rise to concerns about possible negative effects on educational quality and the labour market value of a higher education degree. In this paper, we use data from national graduate surveys and adult literacy surveys to explore this. While no evidence was found for a negative effect of the HE expansion on graduate skill levels or unemployment risk, real graduate earnings have decreased over the past two decades relative to those of post-secondary non-tertiary graduates. This does not seem to have been driven by a shift of HE graduates into non-graduate occupations, but rather by a general decline in relative earnings in jobs at all levels. Finally, the more adverse effects of the expansion were particularly apparent for graduates with lower grades, women and graduates with a non-western migration background. These findings indicate that, despite relatively low unemployment, the HE labour market is increasingly becoming a buyers’ market. In this market, graduates with attributes that buyers want – males, native Dutch graduates, high-performers – emerge as relative winners of the educational expansion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-62
JournalOxford Review of Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • educational expansion
  • higher education
  • trends
  • skills
  • labour market outcomes

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