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Dutch higher education

After secondary school, there are three streams which are to a high extent connected to the levels in secondary schools:

  • Secondary vocational education (MBO)
  • Higher professional education (HBO)
  • University education (WO)

The last 2 are also called 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.

Secondary vocational education (MBO) is on itself 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 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. It is provided by HBO institutions (hogescholen). Graduates find employment in various fields, including middle and high-ranking jobs in trade and industry, social services, health care and the public sector.

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.

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.

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