MBO students offered spot in university intro weeks this year, but turnout remains low

In an increasing number of student cities in the Netherlands, vocational (MBO) students can now join university students during introduction weeks, Trouw reported. However, this move has not gained significant traction yet.

In the Netherlands, MBO (Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs) students pursue vocational education and training programs that equip them with specific job skills. These students typically range from young adolescents to adults and follow a curriculum that blends practical experience with theoretical knowledge, preparing them for various professions directly after graduation.

Although MBO students have been officially recognized as “students” under Dutch law since the 2020-2021 academic year, they still face challenges in participating fully in all aspects of student life. They are often excluded from benefits such as introduction weeks, gym discounts, and student housing.

In an effort to address this, the cities of Utrecht, Groningen, Leeuwarden, Maastricht, and Leiden have included MBO students in their introduction week programs this year. However, participation remains low, with only about 200 MBO students registering compared to the thousands of their university counterparts.

“We’ve received only a handful of applications so far,” said Mirjam Harbers, organizer of the introduction week for new students at Maastricht University and Zuyd University of Applied Sciences. Although MBO students are welcome this year on a trial basis, they have not been registering in large numbers. “The registration period is still open, so we’re still hoping for more enthusiasm,” she said.

In cities with closing or closed registrations, the number of MBO students remains limited. Leiden, Groningen, and Utrecht report 88, 46, and 38 MBO participants, respectively. Leeuwarden has not shared exact numbers but mentioned “relatively few” registrations. Utrecht, the first city to take the initiative to allow MBO students, is somewhat disappointed in the turnout. Although there is an increase from last year, the enthusiasm is not living up to expectations, according to organizer Olivia de Gans. ”There aren’t that many,” she told the newspaper.

Utrecht alderman Dennis de Vries believes the limited MBO student attendance at the introduction week is understandable, citing long-standing traditions at other educational institutions where participation is almost automatic. “It will take some time before it resonates with the new target group.”

Additional factors affecting MBO participation include their younger age, closer familiarity with the city where they study, and the timing of their academic year, which starts later than university schedules, placing the introduction week during their vacation.

De Vries expresses hope that the modest turnout will not be a source of discouragement, as setting a new norm where vocational students can fully engage in student life to the same extent as university students will take time. “Such a big change is rarely completed in just one year,” he noted.

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