Nieuws - 10 oktober 2002

Netherlands faces shortage of knowledge workers

Netherlands faces shortage of knowledge workers

Brain drain or brain gain

Neither government nor businesses are doing enough to recruit knowledge workers. As a result the Netherlands is becoming less attractive to highly educated foreigners.

This is the opinion of Nuffic, the Netherlands Organization for Cooperation in Higher Education. The legislation concerning 'knowledge workers' in Holland is behind that of its neighbours. Medical or IT specialists from outside the EU cannot work for longer than three years in the Netherlands on a temporary basis, unless they are AIOs. The application procedure is unnecessarily time-consuming and often takes months. In France, Germany and the United Kingdom, however, applicants are informed within two weeks about the outcome of their application.

On 10 October the Dutch parliament discusses the Van Leeuwen Committee report, which refers to an 'international surge of competition for the best knowledge migrants'. The committee argues in favour of simplifying the application procedure and extending the amount of time that temporary knowledge workers can stay from three to four and a half years. The committee also argues that the partner of a knowledge worker should be entitled to a work permit, regardless of their educational level.

Pieter van Dijk, president of Nuffic, calls the report 'defensive'. "The Netherlands needs to actively recruit people with specific skills. In five or six years there is going to be a shortage of highly educated people, especially in the hard sciences, economics and medicine. But nobody is thinking about this now."

According to some the danger of active recruitment is the brain drain effect. Attracting highly educated knowledge workers from other countries can result in a shortage of well qualified labour in the source country. South Africa already has a shortage of medical specialists, while many hospitals in the Netherlands continue to actively recruit South Africans. "There are enough countries with a surplus of highly educated personnel," argues Van Dijk. "And you need to take into account the rules in a source country. But we need to start the discussion; there's a shortage on the horizon and nobody is talking about it."

The Van Leeuwen Committee believes that a temporary stay actually results in a 'brain gain'. Highly educated workers come here and gain experience, which they then take home with them. The report is largely in line with the policy of the Dutch Ministry of Education, which includes giving universities more freedom to determine their own direction. Governing party CDA agrees broadly with the content of the report, with the proviso that the labour market is continuously changing and should therefore be monitored. Opposition party GroenLinks is in favour of legislation being relaxed. A spokesperson: "The education cuts mean we have to attract cheaper labour from abroad. We are not against this, but it should not be a license to neglect investment in our own education system."

Translation of HOP bulletin by Bas Belleman