Higher education in the Netherlands is known for its high quality. Here you can find an overview of the main differences between the education system, degrees and the different higher education institutions.    

Research Universities (WO)

Research universities are mainly responsible for offering research-oriented degree programmes (more theoretically based) in an academic setting. Many programmes at research universities also have a practical aspect and most graduates are able to find internships work and work opportunities outside of the academic field. According to Study in Holland 2020, the enrolments at research universities is ranging from 6,000 to 30,000 students. Altogether they enroll some 240,000 students.

Duration of academic study programmes:   

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA): 3 years  
  • Bachelor of Science (BSc): 3 years  
  • Master of Arts (MA): 1-3 years  
  • Master of Science (MSc): 1-3 years  
  • Professional Doctorate in Engineering (PDEng): 2 years  
  • PhD: 4 years  
  • LLB: 3 years  
  • LLM: 1 year 

University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool)

The universities of applied sciences ('hogescholen') offer HBO (higher professional education) programmes that focus on the practical application of arts and sciences.  

Getting practical work experience through internships, practical projects and assignments is an important part of the study programmes offered at the HBO level. According to Nuffic, 2020, the largest universities of applied sciences enroll 20,000 to 40,000 students. Altogether some 446,000 students are enrolled in HBO programmes.   

Students graduating and throwing their caps

Secondary Vocational Education (MBO)

'MBO' refers to middelbaar beroepsonderwijs, or secondary vocational education. Depending upon the level of training, MBO can take up to four years, preparing students for a variety of occupations in sectors ranging from hospitality and tourism to IT and construction. 

MBO courses have two different learning pathways: a 'school-based' one (BOL) and a 'work-based' one (BBL). Both pathways lead to the same qualifications, however they differ in the amounts of time spent on work placements versus in classes, with the BBL pathway students spending more than 60% of their time doing practical training in comparison to BOL's 20% - 60% time in practical training. According to MBO Raad, in the academic year 2021-2022 there were more than 500,000 MBO students enrolled in the Netherlands.

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