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Study in Holland

Are you interested in studying in the Netherlands? It might be useful to learn more about the Dutch educational system. You may have heard terms such as BSA, ECTS, research university, and university of applied sciences. But what do they mean?

On this page, you can read more about higher education in the Netherlands: how it is organized, what the different terms mean, and what the value is of the different types of diplomas offered.

What is the difference between a research university and a university of applied sciences?   

Higher education in the Netherlands is offered at two types of institutions:

  • Research universities (WO)
  • Universities of applied sciences (HBO)

Diagram 'The Dutch education system' (Nuffic)

Research universities offer the highest level of education available in the Netherlands

Tilburg University is a research university. Research universities offer the highest level of education available in the Netherlands. Research by Statistics Netherlands has shown that education at a research university is a good investment in your career, as the total annual income of research university graduates in the Netherlands is nearly 50% higher than that of graduates of a university of applied sciences. Every student, however, should decide which type of education fits him or her best. The main differences are set out below.

Differences in types of education / teaching methods

Research university

  • Education is more theoretical and at an academic level, preparing students for either a professional or academic career.

  • Research-oriented education aimed at developing critical thinking skills and conducting research. In-depth study of the material using scientific sources.

  • Fewer contact hours and more course material to study independently.

University of applied sciences

  • Practice-based education which prepares students for specific professions (e.g. physiotherapist, primary-school teacher or hospitality manager).

  • Practice-oriented education.



  • More contact hours (e.g. lectures / tutorials) during which course material is taught in a classical setting.

Differences in requirements / degree awarded

Research university

  • A Bachelor's program at at research university is only open to those who have successfully completed 6 years of university preparatory education in the Netherlands and to those with similar international qualifications.


  • Students with a relevant Bachelor's degree of a research university can be directly admitted to a Master's program at a research university.



  • A Bachelor's program at a research university requires the completion of 180 credits (three years of study) and graduates obtain the degree of Bachelor of Arts, of Science, or of Laws (BA/BSc/LLB), depending on the discipline.

  • A Master's program at a research university requires the completion of 60-120 credits (1 or 2 years of study) and graduates obtain the degree of Master of Arts, Master of Science, or Master of Laws (MA/MSc/LLM), depending on the discipline.

University of applied sciences

  • A Bachelor's program at a university of applied sciences is open to those who have successfully completed 5 years of senior general secondary education in the Netherlands and to those with similar international qualifications.

  • Students with a relevant Bachelor's degree of a university of applied sciences can only be admitted to a Master's program at a research university after completing an additional six- to twelve-month pre-Master's program.

  • A Bachelor's degree in the applied arts and sciences requires 240 credits (four years of study); in most cases, graduates obtain a degree indicating the field of study (for example, Bachelor of Engineering, B Eng, or Bachelor of Nursing, B Nursing).

  • A Master's degree in the applied arts and sciences requires 60 credits (1 year of study); in most cases, graduates obtain a degree indicating the field of study (for example, Master in Media Innovation, M Media Innovation, or Master in Social Work, M Social Work).


More information on the Dutch higher education system can be found on the Study in Holland website.

Recognition of your diploma

Degrees from the Netherlands are recognized worldwide. All public universities in the Netherlands are accredited by law, which is a first step in quality assurance. Secondly, Tilburg University graduates have pursued Master’s degrees both in the Netherlands and abroad. Your degree from Tilburg University provides a solid foundation on which to build your academic and professional future.

Would you like to know more about the recognition of Dutch university diplomas? Nuffic is the central Dutch organization for the evaluation of foreign diplomas awarded in higher education.

European Credit Transfer System (ECTS)

The ECTS credit system was developed by the European Commission in order to provide common procedures to guarantee academic recognition of studies abroad as part of the Bologna Process.

Each program consists of a certain amount of ECTS that you will need to obtain in order to be able to graduate. One credit represents 28 hours of work. One full year is 60 ECTS; a full Bachelor’s program is 180 ECTS. Each year is divided into courses that you will need to pass; for each separate course you can earn a predetermined amount of ECTS. You can obtain ECTS by meeting the requirements for that specific course, as described by the lecturer. Often this means that you will need to pass an exam, take part in group assignments, or give a presentation. Your final goal is to obtain all ECTS offered in a program; only then can you graduate from the program.

Binding Study Advice

At the end of your first Bachelor’s year, you will receive a 'Binding Study Advice' (BSA). The BSA is based on the results you achieve in your first-year courses and determines if you will be allowed to complete the remaining two years of the program.

Students at Tilburg University need to obtain 42 ECTS credits in order to receive a positive BSA and to continue with the second year of the program. Please keep in mind that in order to complete a full Bachelor’s degree, you must obtain all ECTS offered in the program.

You will never be issued with a negative BSA without first receiving professional study counseling from the university. The university provides a broad study counseling package for all first-year students, so that any issues concerning your study progress can be timely addressed.

All Bachelor's programs

Financial matters

Admission and application