Dutch higher education

Higher education in the Netherlands is known for its high quality and its international study environment. With more than 2,100 international study programmes and courses, it has the largest offer of English-taught programmes in continental Europe. Dutch higher education also has reasonable tuition fees.

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’ (EP-Nuffic)

Research Universities offer the highest level of education available


Research by Statistics Netherlands has shown that education at a research university is a good investment in your career: the total long-term 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 type of education / teaching methods

Research Universities


  • 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.

Universities 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 Universities


  • 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) 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.

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 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); 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); 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

More information on the Dutch Higher Education system and studying in the Netherlands can be found on the Study in Holland website.

All Master's programs

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