Higher education in the Netherlands
Here you'll find more information about higher education in the Netherlands and the differences between the two types of institutions: Research Universities (like Tilburg University) and Universities of Applied Sciences.
Two types of institutions
Higher education in the Netherlands is known for its high quality and its international study environment. With more than 2,100 international study programs and courses, it has the largest offer of English-taught programs in continental Europe. Dutch higher education also offers great value for money: high quality and reasonable tuition fees.
Higher education in the Netherlands is offered at two types of institutions:
- Research Universities (WO)
- Universities of Applied Sciences (HBO)
Some programs are offered exclusively at a University of Applied Sciences, such as Nursing, Fine Arts or Elementary School Teaching. Other programs are offered exclusively at a Research University, such as Econometrics or Philosophy. To make things confusing, there are programs which are available at both types of institutions, such as Communication, Business Administration or Engineering. Every student should decide which type of education and program suits them best. In order to help you understand the differences better, we outlined them below.
Research Universities offer the highest academic level of education available
Research by SEO Amsterdam Economics (2019) has shown that education at a Research University is a good investment in your career. The annual income ten years after graduation is 30-35% higher for Research University graduates than for graduates of a University of Applied Sciences.
Differences in type of education and teaching methods
- Research-oriented education aimed at developing critical thinking skills and conducting research, completing in-depth study of the material using scientific sources. This prepares students for either a professional or an academic career.
- Includes final research thesis in which students apply all the scientific knowledge that they have gathered throughout their studies. In addition, more and more study programs also add the development of practical skills in the form of internships to their programs.
- Fewer contact hours (around 16 contact hours on average per week) and more course material to study independently.
Universities of Applied Sciences
- More practically oriented education which prepares students for specific professions (e.g., physiotherapist, primary-school teacher or hospitality manager).
- The focus of study programs is less theoretical and more on applying knowledge. Internships form a key basis of learning, integrating practical application of knowledge into the study program. Although Research Universities also offer internships, they are more common at Universities of Applied Sciences.
- More contact hours (e.g., lectures / tutorials) during which course material is generally taught in a classroom setting; less emphasis on independent, analytical study.
Differences in requirements and degree awarded
- A Bachelor's program at a Research University is only open to those who have successfully completed 6 years of university preparatory education (VWO) in the Netherlands and to those with similar international qualifications. Some examples of similar qualifications are a full International Baccalaureate Diploma, GCSE A-levels (United Kingdom), a Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife (Germany), or Lise Diplomasi with GPA of 80 (Turkey).
- 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) 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) and graduates obtain the degree of Master of Arts, of Science, or of Laws (MA/MSc/LLM), depending on the discipline.
- Students who obtain a Master’s degree at a Research University have the qualifications to pursue a PhD degree if they are interested.
Universities 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 (HAVO) in the Netherlands and to those with similar international qualifications. Some examples of similar qualifications are a Fachhochschulreife (Germany), an American High School Diploma, and most non-EU secondary school diplomas in the world.
- Students with a relevant Bachelor's degree of a University of Applied Sciences can enter a Master’s program at a University of Applied Sciences directly. Access to a Master's program at a Research University can be given if the disciplines are matching, AND after completing an additional six- to twelve-month Pre-Master's program.
- A Bachelor's degree at a University of Applied Sciences is awarded after the student obtains 240 credits (four years). Graduates obtain a Bachelor’s degree (B) indicating the field of study (e.g., B of Nursing), and possibly the addition of ‘of Science’ or ‘of Arts’, depending on the study program and accreditation of the NVAO.
- A Master's degree in the applied arts and sciences requires 60 credits (1 year). Graduates obtain a Master’s degree (M) indicating the field of study (e.g., M in Social Work), and possibly the addition of ‘of Science’ or ‘of Arts’, depending on the study program and accreditation of the NVAO.
- A Master’s degree at a University of Applied Sciences is typically a professional Master’s degree and progression to a PhD degree is generally not possible.
Differences in accreditation and international rankings
Research Universities are assigned a position on international rankings. Faculties and universities are ranked by independent institutes. These rankings are based on research output and citations. Since Universities of Applied Sciences do not produce academic research, they do not appear in these rankings.
There is no difference in accreditation system between Research Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences. All study programs in the Netherlands and Belgium are accredited by the NVAO: an organization which secures the quality of higher education in the Netherlands and Flanders in an independent and professional way. This means that both Research Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences meet high, standardized quality standards when it comes to education.
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