National education system The Hague region

National education system

Dutch education is known to be of high quality. However, choosing a school for your child can be quite confusing. The Dutch education system is quite unique with its multiple paths and graduation ages in high school. Once you understand the system, you will notice it does not differ that much from other education systems in the rest of the world. Children in the Netherlands are required to go to school until they turn 18 or graduate with a degree.

The school system in the Netherlands is structured as follows:

Day care or pre-school

Until the age of 5, infants and young children in the Netherlands can attend a variety of non-compulsory daycare educational options such as crèche, kindergarten or childminding. Read more in our section on daycare or pre-school.

Primary education (basisonderwijs)

Primary school is intended for children in the age group 4 to 12 and is compulsory for children from the age of 5. It has 8 grades, known as groepen, ranging from Groep 1 (4-year olds) to Groep 8 (12-year olds). They gain basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. They will also start studying English by the time they reach Group 7, if not before then. Read more in our section on primary education.

Secondary education (voortgezet onderwijs)

At the age of 12 children go to one of the following types of secondary education, depending on a student’s academic level and interests:

  • preparatory vocational secondary education (vmbo) - 4 years in duration
  • senior general secondary education (havo) - 5 years in duration
  • university preparatory education (vwo) - 6 years in duration

Read more in our section on secondary education.

Secondary vocational education (MBO) and higher education (hoger onderwijs)

Secondary vocational education (MBO)

Secondary vocational education (MBO) prepares students for a wide range of occupations, from franchise manager to mechanic or nursing assistant. Demand for skilled workers is expected to increase sharply on the Dutch job market. Secondary vocational education takes up to 4 years, depending on the level of training. Those who complete their training can start work or go on to another form of education. More than 700 vocational courses are provided in the Netherlands.

Higher education (hoger onderwijs)

There are two types of higher education in the Netherlands: research-oriented and profession-oriented:

  • Higher professional education (HBO, hoger beroepsonderwijs) is offered by universities of applied sciences (hogescholen).
  • Research-oriented education (WO, wetenschappelijk onderwijs) is traditionally offered by research universities.

Higher professional education (HBO)

HBO provides theoretical and practical training for occupations for which a higher vocational qualification is either required or useful.

Research-oriented education (WO)

Universities combine academic research and teaching. University education focuses on training in academic disciplines, the independent pursuit of scholarship and the application of scholarly knowledge in the context of a profession and aims to improve understanding of the phenomena studied in the various disciplines and generate new knowledge.


The Netherlands has different types of schools. Public, special (religious) and general-special (neutral) schools are government-financed. Officially, these schools are free of charge, but schools may ask for a contribution from the parents (ouderbijdrage). There are English education options in Dutch public schools.

Private schools are not funded by the government and will cover their expenses with tuition and fees. These schools are less common in the Netherlands. Homeschooling is also a possibility in the Netherlands, though dispensation from the obligation of registration will be needed.

The Dutch government funds accredited higher educational institutions (MBO, HBO, WO). These institutions have a legislated standard tuition for each level. If you already have a degree a second educational course will not be funded, which will result in a higher tuition fee (except for educational programmes in the fields of education and health care). There are also non-funded private institutions in higher education. They may set their own tuition fees.

In addition to the government funding educational institutions, students may also apply for student financing from the age of 18. Non-Dutch can also apply for student finance if certain criteria are met. If the criteria are not met you might be eligible for a tuition fee loan.