There are 2 types of higher education in the Netherlands:

Types of higher education institutions

There are different types of Dutch higher education institutions:

  • universities (universiteiten), university colleges and Institutes for International Education for research-oriented higher education (WO);
  • universities of applied sciences (hogescholen) for higher professional education (HBO).

Universities

Most research universities (universiteiten) offer academic study programmes in various areas of specialisation. There are also specialised universities: 1 research university specialises in agriculture and the environment, while 3 universities offer largely technological programmes.

University colleges

University colleges also provide research-oriented higher education and are generally part of a research university. These colleges offer English-language education and are mainly focused on bachelor's degree programmes. See also the Study in Holland website.

Institutes for International Education

The Netherlands has various Institutes for International Education (IE institutes). Most of these IE institutes are part of a Dutch university. They offer a broad range of study programmes in specific fields of study, and generally lead to a master's degree or PhD. See also the Study in Holland website.

Universities of applied sciences

Universities of applied sciences (hogescholen) provide higher professional education (HBO). HBO consists of 7 sectors:

  • economics
  • healthcare
  • agriculture
  • education
  • social and community work
  • art
  • technology

Students can enroll in various study programmes in each of these sectors at universities of applied sciences throughout the Netherlands. Some universities of applied sciences specialise in a particular domain, such as arts, agriculture or teacher training.

Financing of higher education institutions

Higher education institutions in the Netherlands are funded in various ways. There are:

  • government-funded institutions;
  • approved institutions; and
  • private institutions.

Government-funded institutions

Government-funded institutions are funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). They are entitled to issue legally recognised degrees. These institutions offer study programmes for the statutory tuition fee. You can find overviews of funded institutions on the:

Approved institutions

Approved institutions do not receive funding from the Dutch government but may also issue legally recognised bachelor's and master's degrees. These institutions are free to determine the amount of their tuition fees. At the moment there are 3 approved institutions:

  • Nyenrode Business Universiteit;
  • Transnationale Universiteit Limburg;
  • Tias Business School.

Private institutions

Private institutions are not regulated by the Dutch government. Private institutions, such as international universities, are not bound by Dutch government regulations. However, these institutions may apply for accreditation for their study programmes by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO), subject to specific conditions.

    Admission to higher education

    The admission requirements depend on the type of higher education (research-oriented higher education or higher professional education) and the specialisation.

    Research-oriented higher education (WO)

    For admission to research-oriented higher education (WO) students require one of the following diplomas:

    • VWO diploma;
    • HBO first-year certificate (propedeuse).

    Please note: additional requirements (e.g. a specific subject combination) apply to some study programmes.

    Higher professional education (HBO)

    For admission to higher professional education (HBO) students require one of the following diplomas:

    • MBO diploma at level 4;
    • HAVO diploma;
    • VWO diploma.

    Please note: some HBO programmes also apply additional requirements, e.g. for subject combinations and/or skills. Students with a VWO diploma may be admitted to an intensive 3-year programme. Please see: Section 7.9a WHW (in Dutch).

    Numerus fixus

    A numerus fixus applies to some study programmes in both higher professional education and university education. This means that the institution can only admit a limited number of students to a specific study programme. If there are more applications than available places for a study programme, the institution may select students. They look at:

    • average final examination marks;
    • motivation;
    • personality;
    • previous school performance.

    Research-oriented higher education (WO)

    Universities offer research-oriented higher education (wetenschappelijk onderwijs, WO). The aim of this type of education is to educate students as scientists or for a profession in which they can apply scientific knowledge (for example as a dentist or pharmacist). The emphasis is on scientific thinking and solving scientific issues.

    Student can obtain the following degrees in research-oriented higher education:

    • bachelor’s degree
    • master’s degree
    • PDEng
    • PhD

    Bachelor's degree

    • Duration: 3 years (180 ECTS).
    • Content: generally a first-year phase leading to a first-year certificate; mainly (theoretical) education in 1 area of specialisation or a major/minor structure; often followed by a short thesis in the 3rd year.
    • Admission requirements: a VWO diploma or an HBO first-year certificate (propedeuse).
    • Diploma: Bachelor of Arts (BA)/Bachelor of Science (BSc)/Bachelor of Laws (LLB).

    A bachelor’s degree is classified as level 6 of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

    Master's degree

    • Duration: 1 year (60 ECTS; most specialisations), 2 years (120 ECTS; technical and natural sciences specialisations, and research masters in various specialisations), 3 years (180 ECTS; medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmacy and dentistry).
    • Content: specific specialisation and training in research methods; generally includes a compulsory thesis.
    • Admission requirements: a bachelor's degree – with additional requirements in some cases.
    • Diploma: Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), Master of Laws (LLM), Master of Business Administration (MBA).

    Please note: in principle graduates of master's degree programmes in university education (WO) are entitled to use one of the traditional Dutch titles:

    • ingenieur (ir.) – after a completed degree programme in the field of technology, agriculture and the natural environment.
    • meester (mr.) – after a completed degree programme in law.
    • doctorandus (drs.) – after a completed degree programme in other fields of study.

    You can find more information about the use of titles on the central government’s website (in Dutch).

    A master’s degree is classified as level 7 of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

    PDEng

    The 3 universities of technology also offer PDEng programmes.

    • Duration: 2 years.
    • Content: emphasis on technological design; more focused on practice and business/industry than the PhD programme.
    • Admission requirements: usually a WO master's degree and additional requirements, such as a motivation letter and references.
    • Diploma: the title of Professional Doctorate in Engineering (PDEng).

    A Professional Doctorate in Engineering (PDEng) is classified as level 8 of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

    PhD

    • Duration: generally 4 years (often without ECTS).
    • Content: conducting independent research, possibly in combination with training, and the writing of a dissertation under the supervision of 1 or more PhD supervisors.
    • Admission requirements: usually a WO master's degree and additional requirements, e.g. a personal presentation and a research plan.
    • Diploma: the degree of doctor (dr.) or PhD, following public defence of the dissertation.

    A degree of doctor/PhD is classified as level 8 of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

    Higher professional education (HBO)

    Higher professional education (hoger beroepsonderwijs, HBO) is more practically-oriented than research-oriented higher education (wetenschappelijk onderwijs, WO). An HBO programme at a university of applied sciences (hogeschool) educates students for a specific profession.

    At a university of applied sciences students can obtain the following diplomas:

    • associate degree
    • bachelor's degree
    • master's degree
    • post HBO qualification

    Associate degree

    An associate degree programme is often more practically-oriented than a bachelor's degree programme. Students are usually trained for a profession in demand. For instance, university of applied sciences work together with companies or organisations in the regio.

    • Duration: 2 years (120 ECTS).
    • Content: theory is linked to practice; students learn to map and solve problems during practical assignments/internships at companies, municipalities or organisations.
    • Admission requirements: a HAVO diploma, a VWO diploma or an MBO diploma at level 4.
    • Diploma: Associate Degree (AD).

    An associate degree is classified as level 5 of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

    Bachelor’s degree

    HBO bachelor's degree programmes prepare students for a particular profession.

    • Duration: 4 years (240 ECTS). Students with a VWO diploma are eligible to enrol in one of the intensive programmes that an increasing number of universities of applied sciences are offering. These programmes can be completed in 3 years.
    • Content: a first-year phase (propaedeutic year), after which the main phase starts (specialisation). 3rd year: generally a compulsory work placement of around 9 months. 4th year: a thesis or final project.
    • Admission: HAVO diploma or MBO diploma (level 4).Diploma: a bachelor’s degree, such as Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Bachelor of Education (BEd).

    Please note: in principle graduates of bachelor's degree programmes (HBO) are entitled to use one of the traditional Dutch titles:

    • ingenieur (ing.) – after a completed degree programme in the field of technology, agriculture and the natural environment.
    • baccalaureus (bc.) – after a completed degree programme in other fields of study.

    You can find more information about the use of titles on the central government’s website (in Dutch).

    A bachelor’s degree is classified as level 6 of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

    Master’s degree

    HBO master's degree programmes usually offer students the opportunity to specialise further in a specific profession. Often students do not follow the master full-time, but combine work and study.

    • Duration: generally 1 year (60 ECTS), although several specialisations – such as art programmes and teacher training programmes – have a duration of 2 years (120 ECTS).
    • Content: students acquire more in-depth knowledge of a specific profession; this culminates in a thesis or final project, with an emphasis on applied research.
    • Admission: generally a bachelor's degree, and sometimes work experience as well.
    • Diploma: a master’s degree, such as Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Social Work (MSW) and Master of Education (MEd).

    A master’s degree is classified as level 7 of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

    Post HBO qualification

    Some universities of applied sciences offer postgraduate continuing professional education (HBO) programmes. Students can follow these programmes after obtaining at least an HBO bachelor's degree. The study programme is often paid for by an employer.

    English-language education

    English is also becoming an increasingly common language in the higher education sector. The Minister is seeking to amend the Higher Education Act so that institutions can use English as a language of instruction for their programmes. It is important that institutions can demonstrate the genuine added value of English.

    The current range of English-language programmes is featured on the Study in Holland website.