Review of Higher Education Institutions in Regional Development 2008-10: The City-Region of Amsterdam in brief


The region under reviewEconomy | Governance


The region under review: boundaries, geography and population

The City-Region of Amsterdam has a population of nearly 750 000 inhabitants from 176 nationalities. The population is very international: 45% of the inhabitants are migrants or children of migrants.








About 6.3% of the Dutch GDP is produced in the City-Region of Amsterdam. The unemployment rate was 7.1% compared to the Dutch rate of 3.9%.

Amsterdam is traditionally a city of trade. Its infrastructure - port, airport, Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMSIX), and ICT structure - makes it an important hub. The city has the ambition to become one of the world’s Global Business Gateways. To support this, the Amsterdam Department of Economic Development is currently developing an agenda which aims to:

  • Intensify the knowledge and innovation industry
  • Attract more international business
  • Attract more international knowledge workers
  • Attract more tourists and business travellers
  • Provide sufficient space for local entrepreneurs


The 4 biggest sectors in the City-Region of Amsterdam (432 338 total employment in 2008) are:

  • Real estate and business related services: 25% of total employment (46 294 employees)
  • Health care: 13% of total employment (24 502 employees)
  • Financial institutions: 11% of total employment (24 795 employees) 
  • Retail trade: 7% of total employment (11 424 employees)

In the Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam (Amsterdam and its 35 surrounding municipalities) the revenue of the Creative Industry (arts, media and entertainment, creative business services), ICT, and New Media grew by 4.8% in 2007. About 57 000 people are employed in these sectors now.



The Netherlands is a unitary state with three tiers of government: central, provincial and municipal with direct elections taking place for all three tiers. There are currently 12 provinces and 458 municipalities.

Provinces are responsible for land-use planning and physical infrastructure such as planning, building and operating regional roads. They also have legal control over the municipalities (notably in the domain of planning where they approve the municipal land-use plan) and over water boards.

Municipalities are responsible for a wide range of policy sectors like roads, public transport, housing, local planning, environment, social affairs, economic development, education, health care, etc.
The municipalities share many of their responsibilities with the central government, but they are relatively independent. The central government establishes the general framework, rules and norms that local authorities must follow, monitors most policies' implementation and controls the funding for most policy sectors (OECD 2007: 156-160).

The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science (OCW) coordinates higher education policy. Over the last 20 years, the policy objective of the central government has been to decrease its steering and regulatory role and to increase institutional autonomy. The Ministry retains the power to cancel programmes and to prohibit the launch of new ones.

The City of Amsterdam is run by a city council, governed by a mayor, aldermen, and the municipal council. However, unlike most other Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is subdivided into 15 "stadsdelen’’ (boroughs). 14 of these have their own elected council. The fifteenth, Westpoort, covers the harbour of Amsterdam; it has very few residents, and is governed by the central municipal council. The system was introduced in the 1980s to improve local governance. The stadsdelen are responsible for many activities which belonged to city's responsibilities before. Local decisions are made at the borough level. Only affairs pertaining to the whole city, such as major infrastructure projects, are handled by the central city council.

The North Wing is a voluntary co-operation between the 36 municipalities in the Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam to improve the international competitiveness of the region. The municipalities are co-operating in affairs of economy, traffic and transportation, housing, physical planning and land-use development policy.


Amsterdam start page | HE in Amsterdam Further reading and useful links

HE and regions page            


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