Oct 20, 2021

A guide to the Dutch higher education system

Are you more likely to enjoy studying concrete topics or theoretical learning? Learn the differences between the two main higher education institutions in the Netherlands here.

You've gotten so far...
Here you are. You've discovered the option of studying abroad, you found out the Netherlands could possibly be your choice of destination. Considering to study abroad and making a choice as to what study course you would like to follow is difficult enough. Hopefully by now you already know which type of studies you would want to pursue, whether it is business or sciences.

But now you are faced with the different type of institutions in a country you may may have never set foot in. And now, you might wonder Oh my, what did I get myself into.

Would you like to read more about studying in the Netherlands?  Download our  free whitepaper

Now, now, nothing to worry about
The Dutch higher educational system is simpler than you might think. There are good chances that it is very similar to the educational system in your country. 

What you should know now, is how do you want to learn! In any case, know that high school is completely different from university, especially if you’re foreign and you come study in the Netherlands. That is, in the end, the point of you reading an article about an education system of another country.

Research university vs University of Applied Sciences
There are two types of higher educational institution in the Netherlands: the Research universities (or universiteit in Dutch), and the Universities of Applied Sciences (hogeschool), like HZ is.

Here are several things to know about the differences between a Research university and a University of Applied Sciences:

Practical learning vs. theoretical learning
This is the most important aspect to consider when you make your choice between the two types of institutions. 

  • A research university will be mainly theoretical learning, based for instance on scientific articles or extensive literature to read on a given subject.
  • A university of applied sciences will not only teach you the theory, but will apply it in a way that is relevant to the industry or profession you're being prepared for.

What does that mean?
If you are going to study business, this means you will learn about creating a business plan to start a company, and then you will actually have to write your own business plan. Not only that, but you will pushed to understand and implement all the steps of creating your own company: writing a business plan, making up a staffing plan, researching the market for profitability. That is actually a project for IBL (International Business and Languages) and VMT (Vitality and Tourism Management) students in their first year.

If you are a science student, that means that after learning about environmental chemistry and the hardness of water, you will actually get on a boat, and take samples of water at different depths to analyze the water hardness and understand its composition. Or being taught about land surveying, and going on the field to survey land with a tripod for your survey project. That's what Water Management or Civil Engineering students do.

See what I mean? You learn and put into practice the knowledge expected from you in a field. This is done thanks to group projects, assignments, field trips, company trips, lecturers that come from the professional world, and so on.

You can find below some more facts and differences about the two type of institutions.

Research University University of Applied Sciences
  • Theoretical learning in an academic setting
  • Practical learning to help you be prepared for a profession or industry
  • 240 000 students (source:
Studyinholland)
  • 446 000 students (source:
Studyinholland)
  • 3 years education
  • 4 years education, including 1 year of internship experience
  • Students have to organize themselves and choose their own schedule
  • Clear structure and timeframe are provided to the students
  •  Classes with a big capacity
  •  Small rooms for small classes


By now you have a better idea of the types of education there are in the Netherlands. Hopefully, this will help you make up your mind about how you want to learn and which type of learning is better for you!

Would you like to read more about the Dutch Education System? Download this free whitepaper below or are you thinking about studying abroad? Read more on this page

New call-to-action

Reactions