Higher education

Higher education

Like Secondary Education, Dutch Tertiary Education is split into streams. These are variously targeted towards student moving into vocational or professional work: Secondary vocational education (MBO), Higher professional education (HBO) and University education (WO). The last 2 are also called higher education (‘hoger onderwijs’).

Secondary vocational education (MBO)

Secondary vocational education (MBO) 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.

Secondary vocational education (MBO) is subdivided in 4 levels (level 4 being the highest level):

  • level 4: middle-management training
  • level 3: professional training
  • level 2: basic vocational training
  • level 1: assistant training

Pupils who have successfully completed the theoretical, combined or middle-management vocational programme at VMBO level can enrol in professional and middle-management training (MBO levels 3 and 4). Holders of a level 4 MBO certificate may go on to higher professional education (HBO).

Higher education (hoger onderwijs)

There are 2 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 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. It is provided by HBO institutions (‘hogescholen’).

HBO courses typically include business and technology-focused subjects, and often direct students towards the practical, business, and entrepreneurial sides of their chosen subject.

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. Many WO courses also include an internship element, so that students also get experience of working outside of the academic sphere.

Bachelor's and Master's degrees

All HBO and university courses fall under the bachelor-master system. Bachelor's degree programmes are broader, while master's degree programmes lead to specialisation in a chosen field.

HBO bachelor's degree programmes take 4 years, university bachelor's programmes 3 years. A master's degree programme takes up to 2 years, while master's programmes in engineering can last longer.


You may also be interested in our pages on Primary Education, Secondary Education, and International Education.