How does the higher education work in the Netherlands?

One thing that sets the higher education system in Netherlands apart is its strong ties with the business community. The Dutch higher education focuses on providing the best training possible to students who then turn into highly skilled workforce to the industry. On the other hand, the support of these high-profile workers contribute to the strength of the Dutch economy, keeping it globally competitive. 

In other words, the best and most reliable investment the Netherlands has made is for their education system. Its excellent reputation has kept the country in the top 5 in the world in terms of quality. 

How is the education system in Netherlands? 

If it happens that you go to pursue academics in the Netherlands, you’ll receive an education that is both interactive and student-centered. Teaching and research focus mostly on sharing ideas, curiosity, expressing opinions as well as team work. Courses usually include lectures, seminars, tutorials, group work and project with local employers. 

Seminars are small group gatherings of 15 to 20 students with a tutor. During these sessions, students can get support from the tutor and get the time to ask questions about the lectures. They are also very helpful for students to develop communication skills or presentation skills. 

Depending on the courses, there might be practical experience involved. These include working in a computer lab or a laboratory in order to earn some real life work experience. 

Learn more about this Dutch way of teaching in our guide on why you should study in the Netherlands.

The other characteristic worth mentioning on the education system in the Netherlands is its broad-mindedness. The country hosts more than 200 nationalities contributing to a melting pot of cultures and points of view. All these countries cooperate in sharing knowledge giving the Netherlands the international recognition they are praised for. 

Netherlands education system facts 

There are more than 100,000 international students who choose to study in Holland every year. Dutch universities are renown to provide five-star education with many degrees taught in English: over 350 at undergraduate level and 1,500 at master’s. Among the 13 research universities in the country, 11 of them has managed to rank among the 200 best institutions in the world. 

Check here our review of the top 10 universities in the Netherlands.

One thing is sure, most of well-known institution in the Netherlands has some special achievement. For example: Delft University of Technology is in the top 20 research universities globally, while Eindhoven University of Technology is the 3rd most influential research center in Europe. Not mentioning that students from Wageningen are at the forefront of sustainable innovations in agri-food globally.

The other reason to choose the Netherlands for higher education is the relatively lower tuition fees. Compared to other study abroad destinations, such as the UK, Canada or the USA, studying in Holland is definitely less pricey. To give you a range, you can expect to spend a maximum of €15,000 per year as an international student to study in the Netherlands. 

Check here our overview of the living and study cost in Holland.

Types of institutions of higher education in the Netherlands

The Dutch higher education system is binary, offering students to choose between research universities and universities of applied sciences. 

Research universities or WO

These are the institutions to choose from if you want a more theoretical, academic learning. They focus on research, knowledge valorization as well as independent study. Research universities offer programs at undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels. Moreover, students get to get a broad focus on a specific study subject or prepare for a particular profession. Courses usually include less contact hours between teachers and students.

Universities of applied sciences or HBO

This type of university offers what is called higher professional education. They are the right choice if you want a more vocational, career-focused education. Courses at universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands are more practical, with 1-year work experience included in most degrees’ curriculum. They also include more contact hours between teachers and students. Moreover, it takes between 3 and 4 years to earn degrees. 

Admission to higher education in the Netherlands

Application to Dutch universities usually goes through a central admission system called Studielink. For that, you should create an account on the platform then submit the following documents: 

  • Transcripts of academic records
  • Copy of ID / passport
  • Photographs
  • Proof of English proficiency
  • Letters of recommendation / references
  • Statement of purpose 
  • Proof of finances or scholarship

Usually, students can apply to up to 4 programs at a time. Some courses are bound by what is called “numerus fixus”. This means that there is a maximum number of first year students they can admit. And students who want to be admitted to such programs can only apply to 2 numerus fixus of the 4 programs. Moreover, application deadline then falls on the 15th of January in this case. 

The deadline for other programs on the other hand is usually on May 1st. But some universities may accept applications passed this date. 

Get more details in our guide on how to apply to universities in the Netherlands

Degrees and qualifications

Higher education in the Netherlands consists of a 3-cycle degree system after which students earn a bachelor’s, a master’s then a PhD. This is the case in both research and applied sciences universities.

Moreover, universities of applied sciences also offer an Associate degree as well as a Professional Doctorate in Engineering (PDEng).

Grading system and assessment 

Universities in the Netherlands use the ECTS (European Credit Transfer System). This allows an easy comparison of workload to earn a degree throughout Europe. One credit is worth around 25–30 hours and 1 year 9f study is worth 60 credits.

Moreover, the Dutch university system has a unique system called “binding study advice”. This represents the number of credits you need to obtain in your first year of bachelor’s degree to be allowed to continue the next year. This number varies from one university to another.

Furthermore, the grading system in the Netherlands is on a scale of 1 to 10. 10 is an outstanding mark, and the lowest passing grade is 6. Also, 9s are difficult to get and a grade of 10 is extremely rare.

Depending on the degree you plan to earn, assessment may be through: 

  • Coursework
  • Presentations and projects
  • Participation in seminars
  • Written assignments
  • Practical tasks
  • Thesis

About Herilalao

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