April 2020, 24


Often students overlook the opportunities for higher education in the Netherlands. They prefer studying in the US, UK, China, Canada for better learning experiences and opportunities relatively coming and studying here in the Netherlands. But they unintentionally miss the option to come here. If you know how the Netherlands education system varies from other countries, you will love to study and settle here.

The Netherlands comprises a group of small low-lying countries. It doesn't mean the schools or universities is bad. The Netherlands's education system has ranked seventh as per the A Global Network of Research Universities. It is a prime destination for students of engineering, computer science, and mathematics. The world's top specialist universities the Delft University of Technology, The University of Amsterdam, Wageningen University and Research, Leiden University, etc. are established here.

The education systems are considerably different from what is offered in the UK or US. The teaching is of high-quality and is acknowledged for their well-designed, modern courses and facilities. They focus on teamwork and emphasizes on building a good relation among students and teachers. These universities also include many practical elements in their degree courses.

The degree courses they offer are not in the Dutch language but also the English language. English language is the second wide spoken language there and offers more than 2100 study programs and courses leading to a bachelor's, master's, Ph.D., diploma or certificate qualifications.

Read about Is Master's mandatory for PhD?


From the above image, the various stages of the Netherlands education system are described below. The Primary School is compulsory for every child for 8 years beginning at the age of 4 years. Thereafter, they move on to secondary education. At this stage, three options are possible to them. They can opt.

Netherlands Education system​​


  1. VMBO- A student at this stage goes for preparatory secondary vocational education for 4 years. He/She gains practical knowledge and experiences. After the complication of 4 years, he/she can go for higher education i.e., senior secondary vocational education and training (MBO). It is a 4 years education with more practical knowledge.
  2. VWO- It is a 6 yrs-university preparatory education with the gain of theoretical knowledge. After 6 years, the student goes for higher education, WO Bachelor, then WO Master and Ph.D.
  3. HAVO- It can be understood as a midway between VWO and VMBO. This education system is for the student who wants to have theoretical as well as practical knowledge. It is a senior general secondary education for 5 long years. After the end of his/her secondary education, a student either pursues HBO Bachelors in the University of applied sciences or WO Bachelors in the Research University. Thereafter, Masters in HBO or WO respectively.

Blog on EdD vs PhD in Education


The Netherlands education system consists of two types of Bachelor's degree: HBO (University of Applied Sciences) and WO (Academic University Education). Both of them are equivalent except:

1. HBO Bachelor's programs take four years i.e. 240 ECTS. WO Bachelor's programs take three years i.e. 180 ECTS.

2. HBO degree programs have a professional orientation. They use their practical and theoretical knowledge at work to solve problems. Their education is aimed at developing competencies. WO degree programs have an academic orientation. Their education focuses to look at certain discipline analytically and critically.

3. For an HBO Bachelor's program, the minimum requirement is a diploma at Dutch MBO level 4 (senior secondary vocational education) or Dutch HAVO (higher general secondary education). For WO Bachelor's programs, this is a diploma at Dutch VWO level (pre-university secondary education) or an HBO first-year diploma.

4. HBO programs have a clear occupational outlook in comparison to WO. They do not have clear occupational outlook.

5. The most important task for HBO programs students in their University of Applied Sciences is to provide education and focus on advisory work for companies and institutions. In WO program university, the academic university has both an educational and research task. Not students but teachers are equally involved in research which reflects the inclusion of new knowledge and the process of scientific research in lectures.

6. HBO education is about applying knowledge and improve what already exists. WO education is about developing knowledge and designing what does not exist.

7. HBO program is Education-oriented. WO program is Research-oriented.

8. An HBO program provides much more direction in helping students to make certain choices and Students at a WO program are left with their own devices to choose their own path.

9. HBO programs are usually set out in advance, whereas an academic program can, at least in part, be self-defined.

10. HBO program is about working in a group, homework completion, and spending more time on a subject. WO program is about independent work, less checking of homework, and understand a greater amount of material quickly.

11. For an HBO program, an internship is compulsory. For a WO program, an internship may or may not be compulsory.

12. In HBO education, there is no explicit distinction between lectures and tutorials, and the two are often integrated. At a WO education, there is a strict distinction between a tutorial and a lecture and not every course has tutorials.

Read about guidance to Law Degree

13. HBO graduates can be awarded two titles: Baccalaureus (bc.) and Ingenieur (ing.). A Baccalaureus (Bachelor) is awarded after finishing a university of applied sciences in a non-technical or non-scientific subject. This title is not often used by graduates. Ingenieur (ing) is used more often. This title is awarded to graduates in a technical or scientific subject. WO graduates may have more titles: Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc) and Bachelor of Laws (LLB); these titles are also awarded at a higher level. Master's degrees include Master of Arts (MA), Master of Laws (LLM) and Master of Science (MSc).

To sum up,

An HBO program is more about "how" in the education system whereas, a WO program is more about "why" in an education system.