Pre-higher education:

Duration of compulsory education:

Age of entry: 5

Age of exit: 16


Structure of school system:


Type of school providing this education: Basisonderwijs (Primary School)

Length of program in years: 8

Age level from: 4 to: 12 Junior Secondary

Type of school providing this education: Junior General Secondary Education (MAVO)

Length of program in years: 4

Age level from: 12 to: 16

Certificate/diploma awarded: MAVO Diploma Senior Secondary

Type of school providing this education: Senior Secondary Education (HAVO)

Length of program in years: 5

Age level from: 12 to: 17

Certificate/diploma awarded: HAVO Diploma Prevocational

Type of school providing this education: Voorbereidend Beroepsonderwijs (VBO) (Preparatory Vocational Education)

Length of program in years: 4

Age level from: 12 to: 16

Certificate/diploma awarded: VBO Diploma Vocational

Type of school providing this education: Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs (Senior Secondary Vocational Education )

Length of program in years: 4

Age level from: 16 to: 20

Certificate/diploma awarded: MBO Diploma Pre-university

Type of school providing this education: University Preparatory Education (VWO)

Length of program in years: 6

Age level from: 12 to: 18

Certificate/diploma awarded: VWO Diploma


School education:

Starting with the 1999-2000 school year, a major restructuring of secondary vocational and general secondary education was implemented. These changes mainly affect VBO, the last two years of MAVO, the last two years of HAVO and the last three years of VWO. Secondary education consists of VBO (pre-vocational education), MAVO (junior general secondary education), HAVO (senior general education) and VWO (pre-university education). Those with a VBO Diploma can then go on to the MBO. The MAVO prepares for senior secondary vocational education (MBO).Starting with the 1999-2000 school year, MAVO and MBO have been officially classified in the same category of education known as VMBO (Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs) or preparatory secondary vocational education. Depending on interest and capacity, pupils can choose from one of four learning tracks or routes: 1) the theoretical route granting admission to long MBO or HAVO; 2) the vocationally-oriented route granting admission to long training in secondary vocational education (MBO) or to short training programmes; 3) a mixed educational route with a combination of general subjects and a vocationally-oriented subject; and 4) a professional practice route, oriented towards the labour market and aimed at a specific group for which VMBO is the last educational stage.HAVO prepares for higher professional education (HBO). Students go on to the VWO or choose senior secondary vocational training instead of higher professional education. VWO prepares for university studies, but many pupils continue in HBO. There are 3 kinds of VWO Certificates: Atheneum, Gymnasium and Unified VWO Certificate. An important result of the recent educational reforms regarding VMBO, HAVO and VWO is that pupils in the last two years of VMBO, the last two years of HAVO and the last three years of VWO have to complete the curriculum requirements for one of four subject clusters. VMBO pupils can choose between Technology, Health and Personal Care and Welfare, Economics and Agriculture. HAVO and VWO pupils can choose between Nature and Technology, Nature and Health, Economics and Society and Culture and Society.  Beginning in January 1997, a new national qualification framework for adult and vocational education (beroepsonderwijs) went into effect  with four levels of training and two learning paths. This new system incorporates the senior secondary vocational educational courses (MBO) and apprenticeship training courses (leerlingwezen) that had existed before. Under the new system, each level of qualification corresponds to a different type of course: 1) assistentopleiding, training to assistant level lasting 6 months to 1 year, 2) basisberoepsopleiding, basic vocational training (2-3 years), 3) vakopleiding, professional training (2-4 years) and 4) at level 4, middle-management training (3-4 years) and specialist training (1-2 years). Students can take these courses consecutively, the Diploma for one course serving to gain entry to the next.


Higher education:

The Netherlands higher education system is a binary system, composed of Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs (WO - university education) and Hoger Beroepsonderwijs (HBO - professional higher education). In addition, there is the Open Universiteit (OU - Open University) which offers fully recognized university degree programmes through distance education. Internationaal Onderwijs (IO) (international education), generally conducted in English, is mainly designed to meet the needs of foreign students. Since 1991, university research schools have been founded to cater for young researchers and to centralize research activities.


Main laws/decrees governing higher education:

Decree: Adult and Vocational Education Act Year: 1996

Decree: The Higher Education and Research Act (WHW) Year: 1993

Concerns: university and HBO (Higher Professional education)


Academic year:

Classes from: Sep to: Jun

Long vacation from: 15 Jul to: 1 Sep


Languages of instruction: Dutch


Stages of studies:

Post-secondary studies (technical/vocational type):

Non-university level:

HBO provides theoretical and practical preparation for professional practice. The four-year degree programmes  are offered at Hogescholen (Universities of Professional Education). Graduates of a four-year technical or agricultural programme obtain the title of 'Ingenieur' (ing.). For the other branches of study, the title is 'Baccalaureus'. Internationally, the title of Bachelor may be used. The HBO Propaedeuse gives entry to the first year of a university course. HBO graduates may proceed to postgraduate programmes.


University level studies:

University level first stage: First phase:

This stage consists of a one-year Propedeutisch course (42 credits). The Certificate awarded is the Getuigschrift van het Propedeutisch Examen.


University level second stage: HBO or Doctoraal programme:

The second stage consists of two types of education: HBO and Doctoraal. A) HBO education combines practical training with theoretical instruction. It is divided into seven sectors: Technology, Administration and Economics, Health Care, Fine and Performing Arts, Education and Teacher Training, Agriculture and Welfare Services. The HBO programme lasts for four years (168 credits including the Propedeuse) in all fields. An essential part of each study programme is the  'stage' (internship) and the "scriptie", or major paper, written in the final year. Upon completion of the programme,  the 'Getuigschrift HBO' is conferred and students may use the title of Baccalaureus or, in Engineering, Ingenieur (ing). B) Doctoraal: The purpose of the Doctoraal degree programme is to give students a thorough background in a chosen discipline as well as the research skills necessary to master it. Most university programmes require the completion of 126 credits (three years) after the propedeuse, but programmes in Engineering, Agriculture, Mathematics and Science require the completion of 168 credits (four years) following the propedeuse. A large part of the last year is devoted to the preparation of a 'scriptie', where the student demonstrates his skill in conducting independent research. Graduates of the 'Doctoraal' obtain the title of Doctorandus (drs.), Ingenieur (ir.) or, in Law, Meester (mr.).


University level third stage: Doctoraat:

The Dutch Doctoraat is obtained through the 'Promotie'. It is a research degree which entitles the holder to the title of Doctor (dr.), the highest university degree in the Netherlands. After the Doctoraal, it can be obtained in two ways: 1. by serving as 'Assistent in Opleiding' (AIO) or 'Onderzoeker in Opleiding' (OIO), i.e. assistant researchers. The former also does some teaching. Candidates are required to carry out the necessary research and to write a doctoral dissertation over a period of four years. They are paid a small salary which increases every year. Competition for these positions is tough. 2. By researching and writing a doctoral dissertation under the supervision of a full professor. The dissertation must  be defended in public. Post-doctoraal programmes are third stage training and research programmes which do not lead to the title of Doctor but give access to a wide variety of high-level professions in Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, etc.


Teacher education:

Training of pre-primary and primary/basic school teachers

Both full and part-time courses leading to a qualification to teach at primary level have a study load of 168 credits (four years). Graduates are fully qualified to teach all subjects and all age groups (4 to 12 years) at primary level.


Training of secondary school teachers

Secondary school teachers may follow a teacher training course at a university of professional education or follow a postgraduate teacher training course at a university. In HBO training courses, students may obtain a Second Level Qualification (Tweedegraads Bevoegdheid) in a specific subject, a First Level Qualification (Eerstegraads Bevoegdheid) in Physical Education or a First or Second Level Qualification in Arts and Crafts. University graduates can take a post-doctoraal  teacher training course leading to a First Level Qualification. Courses are available in all subjects in the secondary curriculum. Teachers with Second Level Qualification are qualified to teach the first three years of VWO and HAVO and all age groups in MAVO, VBO and MBO, while those with a First Level Qualification are qualified to teach at all levels of secondary education.


Training of higher education teachers

There are no special credentials which qualify for teaching at the higher education level.


Non-traditional studies:

Distance higher education

The best example of non-traditional distance education is the Open Universiteit. It offers courses in Law, Social Sciences, Arts, Economics, Management and Administrative Science, Engineering and Natural Sciences. The Central Government has laid down a statutory framework in which the Open University must operate. The only entrance requirement is that students be at least 18 years old. Students define their own programme and proceed at their own pace, which means that the programme's length varies according to the student. Qualifications are Certificates from one or several courses, a Diploma awarded upon completion of several courses combined into a short study programme, or a Doctoraal degree.


Lifelong higher education

Regulated by the Adult Education Framework Act, adult education comprises non-formal education and development work, adult basic education and adult general secondary education (VAVO).


Higher education training in industry

Post-secondary courses offered by privately-owned institutions in business and industry are so numerous and so varied in their admission policies that they cannot be enumerated here.



Administration & co-ordination:

Responsible authorities:

Department of University Education, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, (Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschappen)

Minister: L. Hermans

PO Box 25000
Europaweg 4
2700 LZ Zoetermeer

Tel: +31(79) 323-2323

Fax: +31(79) 323-2320



Role of governing body: Principal authority responsible for administration, financing and coordination of higher education


Rectors' Conference of the Netherlands (Rectoren College)

Chairman: D.F.J. Bosscher

Secretary:  H.J. Graafland

Postbus 19270
3501 DG Utrecht

Tel: +31(71) 527-3130

Fax: +31(71) 527-3052




Association of Universities in the Netherlands (Vereniging van Samenwerkende Nederlandse Universiteiten (VSNU))

Director: E.E.M. d'Hondt

Postbus 19270
3501 DG Utrecht

Tel: +31(30) 236-3888

Fax: +31(30) 233-3540



Role of governing body: Drawing-up a common policy of long-term development of education and research; promoting interuniversity co-operation, and co-operation between university and the Ministry.


Netherlands Association of Universities of Professional Education (HBO-Raad)

Chairman: F. Leijnse

Postbus 123
Prinsessegracht 21
2501 CC The Hague

Tel: +31(70) 312-2121

Fax: +31(70) 312-2100



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