Tertiary (higher) education

Tertiary (higher) education in the Netherlands is made up of hoger beroepsonderwijs – HBO (higher vocational education) and wetenschappelijk onderwijs – WO (scientific/academic education). These 2 forms of education are provided by hogescholen (polytechnics / universities of applied science) and universities respectively. 

Bachelor's and master's degrees

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

European Credit Transfer System

Student workloads are determined using the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), with 1 credit representing 28 hours of work. Students must attain at least 60 credits per year.

Higher vocational education (HBO)

The 43 HBO institutions in the Netherlands together offer 200 programmes in a wide range of disciplines. They provide theoretical and practical training for occupations for which a higher vocational qualification is either required or useful. Graduates find employment in various fields, including trade and industry, social services, health care and the public sector.

University education (WO)

Universities combine academic research and teaching. University education focusses 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 13 universities, including 3 universities of technology. Wageningen University is financed by the Ministerie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat – EZK (Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation) because of its agricultural roots.


The government grant awarded to a university depends in part on performance indicators, such as the number of first-year students, and the number of bachelor's and master's degrees awarded. Universities may use the government grant for either teaching or research as they see fit. Universities bear the cost of housing and infrastructure themselves.

HBO institutions receive funding from a variety of sources, including government grants, tuition fees and revenues from contracts with third parties (primarily to provide education). Nearly 92% of the total government grant is paid as a block grant that the institution may spend as it sees fit on personnel, material and housing costs.


The biggest change in the higher education system in recent years was the introduction of the bachelor-master system in 2002 in order to increase students' international mobility. In keeping with this change, the accreditation system was simplified. Programmes must meet certain quality standards in order to be accredited.

Diploma Supplement

Under Dutch law, the Diploma Supplement issued by tertiary education institutions must use the template jointly developed by the European Commission, the Council of Europe and UNESCO.

Interested in studying in the Netherlands?

Nuffic (The Dutch Organisation for Internationlisation in Education) provides extensive information for students interested in coming to the Netherlands to study at a HBO or WO level.

Legalising foreign qualifications

Do you have educational qualifications attainted outside the Netherlands, and do you want to know what its Dutch equivalent is? Or do you want to work or study in the Netherlands after obtaining qualifications attained elsewhere?

There are 2 bodies that evaluate various types of foreign qualifications in the Netherlands:

  • Nuffic evaluates qualifications for theoretically-based junior vocational education, general and pre-university secondary education, and tertiary education;
  • Samenwerkingsorganisatie Beroepsonderwijs Bedrijfsleven – SBB (Foundation for Cooperation on Vocational Education, Training and Labour Market) evaluates apprenticeships and senior vocational qualifications.

Certain fees apply for these services.

Check before you enroll

Before you register for a study programme at a tertiary education institution in the Netherlands, please make sure it is an institution that is recognised by the Dutch authorities and the programme that is offered is accredited by Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatieorganisatie – NVAO (Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders). If an institution offers bachelors, masters or other programmes that have not been accredited by NVAO, but by a body in another country, the degrees may be recognised in that country, but not in the Netherlands.


The tertiary education system in the Netherlands is binary, consisting of research-intensive universities offering bachelors, masters and Ph.D. programmes, and polytechnics / universities of applied sciences, offering predominantly professionally oriented bachelors (and some masters) programmes. Combined, institutions in the Netherlands offer more than 1 560 international study programmes and courses. Most of these are recognised by the Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap – OCW (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science) and therefore registered in the Centraal Register Opleidingen Hoger Onderwijs – CROHO (central register of tertiary education programmes). The CROHO is currently only available in Dutch.


The institutions are only permitted to offer international students duly accredited degree education. The Wet op het hoger onderwijs en wetenschappelijk onderzoek  – WHW (Tertiary Education and Research Act) requires that all degree programmes offered by research universities and universities of applied sciences be assessed according to a set of criteria. This is called accreditatie (accreditation). Accreditation in the Netherlands is a 'formal and independent decision indicating that an institution or programme meets certain predefined quality standards which, from an international perspective, can be reasonably expected of a bachelors or masters programme'. NVAO carries out this task. NVAO only accredits bachelors and masters programmes. Ph.D. programmes are the responsibility of the individual university and therefore fall outside the scope of the accreditation process.

Tertiary short courses and customised programmes may also be offered to international students. If these are also a recognised element in an accredited bachelors or masters programme, their quality is guaranteed. If the course or customised programme cannot be identified as part of an accredited bachelors or masters programme, the institution must demonstrate the quality of the course or customised programme. Be aware that qualifications from short courses and customised programmes are not eligible for the legalisation / authentication / certification process in the Netherlands.

Students will be awarded recognised degrees only after completing a recognised degree programme, and only qualifications from recognised programmes will be eligible for legalisation/authentication/certification. For more information, please contact Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs – DUO (education implementation service).

Code of Conduct

All tertiary education institutions in the Netherlands that wish to recruit international students and avail themselves of national scholarship programmes must adhere to the Gedragscode Internationale Studenten Hoger Onderwijs (Code of Conduct International Student in Tertiary Education). This Code establishes a series of rules setting a quality standard that the educational programmes offered to international students must meet. In return, the immigration services in the Netherlands simplify, unify and accelerate visa procedures. The Code thus serves as a method of quality assurance for the tertiary education institutions. The Landelijke Commissie Gedragscode Hoger Onderwijs is an independent commission that monitors compliance with the Code. International students and other stakeholders can file complaints with this commission if they believe an institution is contravening the rules set out in the Code of Conduct.