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Education in the Netherlands: Higher education

Education in the Netherlands: Higher education

The information provided about third level education often seems to be confusing to foreigners because, in the Netherlands, it is taught at two different levels which both offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The two types of universities in the Netherlands are called (research) universities and universities of applied sciences. You can find more about these in the following paragraphs.

Dutch universities

(Research) universities (universiteit or WO) focus on academic research and offer a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Science or Arts, as well as the possibility to obtain a Ph.D.

The programmes are organised around a bachelor’s or undergraduate phase that lasts three years and a master’s or graduate phase that lasts one to two years in a wide range of disciplines: language and culture, behavior and society, economics, law, medical and health sciences, natural sciences, engineering, and agriculture.

To quality for this type of university, students must have an IB-Diploma or the Dutch VWO. Visit IDW to see about having your diploma evaluated, if it was not awarded in the Netherlands, though sometimes the school will offer to have this evaluation done for you, as the IDW charges a fee for this service.

University of Applied Sciences

Universities of Applied Sciences (hogeschool or HBO) teach third-level vocational or professional education with a more practical approach and lead to a bachelor’s and master’s degree, though not in Science or Arts but, rather, in a particular field.

Students can enroll at a University of Applied Sciences after having obtained the IB-diploma (or the IGCSE-diploma, MBO-diploma, or the Dutch HAVO / VWO-diploma) - again, you can visit IDW to have your foreign diploma evaluated.

The HBO schools include institutions that offer general education as well as institutions specialising in one of the seven HBO sectors: agriculture, engineering and technology, economics and business administration, health care, fine and performing arts, education / teacher training, and social welfare.

These programmess of higher professional education (Hoger Beroepsonderwijs, HBO) prepare students for particular professions. They tend to be more practically-oriented than programmes offered by research universities.

In addition to lectures, seminars, projects and independent study, students are required to complete an internship or work placement (stage) which normally takes up part of the third year of study, as well as a final project or a major paper in the fourth year, which is why these programmes last longer than the university programmes.

International university education

The Dutch higher education system offers a growing number of courses in English, both specialised courses as well as entire bachelor’s and master’s programmes. Some institutions also offer Ph.D programmes.

This coming year, there will be more than 1.500 international courses on offer - almost all of which will be taught entirely in English. You can find a list of these on Nuffic, or Study in Holland. Throughout the country many universities of applied sciences also offer programmes in English. You can visit HBO-raad for more information on these.


higher education netherlands

The programmes and courses vary in length from three months to two years. In most cases, students are required to have completed a programme of higher education in their own country or here in order to qualify. Usually this is a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent.

Some of the international education institutes have an arrangement with a Dutch university pursuant to which students can go on to pursue a doctorate after earning their master’s degree.

Courses and programmes of various types, including master programmes, are offered in a wide range of specific fields. The emphasis can be either on research or on the practical application of knowledge.

Aside from the bachelor or master degree requirement, students are often also required to have work experience to enter these programmes. Some advanced training courses have been originally designed for people from developing countries whose jobs require highly specialised knowledge.

How do you know for sure that your course or programme is of the right quality? Find out whether it has been accredited by the Dutch and Flemish Accreditation Organization (Nederlands Vlaamse Accreditatie Organisatie), which has been appointed by the Dutch and Flemish government for the purpose of monitoring the quality of the higher education courses and programmes on offer.

Most institutions that offer English-language education, have been required to sign a special Code of Conduct that imposes additional requirements. Only those institutions that have done this, may place their courses and programmes on Study in Holland. If you want to know more about the state of affairs of non-bona fide course and programmes, visit CIDM.


This is the second part of the "International Schools & Higher Education" article written by Willemijn L. van Oppen-Stuyt, owner of Educaide, for The XPat Journal. Have a look at the current edition or subscribe here.

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