The Dutch system of higher education

Higher education in the Netherlands is offered at two types of institutions: research universities (universiteiten) and universities of professional tertiary education (hogescholen).
These institutions provide students with three kinds of degrees – the Bachelor’s degree, the Master’s degree (the Dutch equivalent being the Doctorandus – Drs.) and the Doctoral degree.
Research universities offer programmes that are more general and academically oriented. In Dutch the term for this research-oriented education is Wetenschappelijk onderwijs, the abbreviation being WO. Schools of tertiary education (hogescholen) provide higher professional education, in Dutch Hoger Beroepsonderwijs, abbreviated HBO, with the programmes being more practical, preparing the student for a specific career.

Bachelor’s

This is the first academic degree of a student and the requirements for admission are at least a Dutch VWO-diploma, or a foreign equivalent, which is a high-school diploma or certificate of Secondary education. The Bachelor’s takes three years to complete and usually consists of 180 ECTS (European credit points, with one credit representing 28 hours of full-time studying). The programmes of professional higher education (HBO) take four years to complete and consist of 240 ECTS. The minimal requirement for the HBO-programmes is a HAVO- or professional secondary education diploma of the Netherlands.

Master’s

This degree follows the Bachelor’s degree and consists of courses, sometimes an internship, and always a thesis. The degree takes 1-2 years to complete. The requirement is a Bachelor’s degree, usually in a field related to the Master’s programme. The Dutch equivalent to a Master’s degree is the Doctoraal (abbreviated Drs.), not to be confused with a Doctoral degree (a PhD). The Master’s usually consists of around 60 ECTS (European credit points) for a one-year programme and 120 ECTS for two years. Many hogescholen in Amsterdam also award Master’s degrees with a more practical aim.

Doctorate

In order to pursue a Doctorate, the candidate must possess a Master’s degree in a relevant field. The process of earning a Doctorate normally takes four years or more and consists of conducting independent research and writing a dissertation. The dissertation is then defended at a public defense. Usually, the dissertation can be written in Dutch, English, German or French, with other languages requiring special permission. In Amsterdam, a Doctorate can be pursued at the Universiteit van Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit.