In the academic year 2021/22, 30 242 young learners left Initial VET prematurely – the highest number in 10 years.

The main causes are the (aftermath of the) COVID-19 pandemic and the current tight labour market. Due to the closing of VET schools and the switch to online education, many learners lost their motivation, while after the pandemic, market shortages tempted many of them to trade school for work.  

VET students without diploma are vulnerable

However attractive joining the labour market may be, a diploma is indispensable for those hoping to continue working in the future. As pointed by the Minister for Education, Dr Dijkgraaf: ‘When the economic climate changes, it is important one can fall back on a diploma’. 

Statistics show that the higher the level of education, the lower the unemployment rate. During the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment rose even faster among people with lower levels of education, or no diploma at all. One of the reasons is that low-skilled workers typically work on a flexible contract and are more likely to lose their job as soon as the economy declines. 

Incidentally, not all young people are equally likely to drop out. Those with multiple problems, for example psychological and financial problems (debts), are particularly vulnerable; they drop out four times more often than other students. 

The rising numbers of dropouts in VET prompted the government to intervene. Personal assistance and individual guidance from the schools are essential to retain these young people in education and training. A new programme, to be launched in the school year 2023/24, is required to provide for smooth transition to another VET course, if the chosen course proves to be a disappointment, and for intensive study support for young VET learners who prefer work over school. The programme aims to address not only education issues, but also the social conditions of learners, such as debt and mental health problems. The minister's aim is to have fewer than 18 000 early school leavers in VET by 2026, 12% of the target group of 150 000 learners between 15 and 27, without a starting qualification, not attending school, nor working.

Why not aim for zero dropouts

Although the Netherlands is a top performer in low early school leaving (ESL) from education and training (age 18-24) with only a 5.3% ESL rate in 2021 compared to 9.7% in the EU, dropout rates have always been relatively high in Dutch VET compared to general education programmes. Research shows that there are several reasons why a learner may leave education and training early without a VET diploma, besides the attractiveness of the labour market. Those include in particular the quality of education facilities, the classroom environment, and – to a lesser extent – mental and physical health problems.    

A recent research study concludes that a lack of specific expectations among novices entering a VET programme is also an important reason for ELS. As learners have no previous experience with the course, its content may not be what they expected, suggesting that timely career guidance would be beneficial. If learners are better informed at the time of making a choice, there is a lower chance that a programme will be an unpleasant surprise, either because they did not succeed in it or because they did not like it, even if they were successful. However, this risk of a programme not meeting students’ expectations, and their dropping out, can never be reduced to zero.

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Please cite this news item as: ReferNet Netherlands, Cedefop (2023); Netherlands: record number of dropouts in Dutch VET. National news on VET

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ReferNet Netherlands