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Higher Education

More than one-third of all Dutch men and women between twenty and twenty-four years of age pursue higher education degrees. Annually, more than 375,000 students attend higher education programs. There are three types of higher education in the Netherlands. Higher professional education (HBO) is taught at hogescholen, university higher education is taught at universities (WO), and higher distance education is taught at The Open University (OU). Different admission requirements exist in hogescholen and universities, whereas The Open University has no admission requirements other than students must be at least eighteen years of age. The Open University is a state institution, but there are public and private hogescholen and universities, both funded equally by the Dutch government. To retain this funding, they must meet set standards of educational quality, and public and private degrees must be equivalent.

Higher Professional Education: In 1997 there were 59 hogescholen or HBO institutions with 259,000 students. HBO institutions provide theoretical instruction and practical training for more demanding and professional occupations than those studied through vocational education. Some of the types of training and programs available are: educational theory, language and culture, behavior and society, social welfare, art, science, health care, agriculture and natural environment, economics, and engineering and technology. All HBO programs include an important practical training element, and most programs require professional placement outside of the hogescholen. Courses usually last four years.

The government and industry are working together to attract more students to technical HBO programs. They are also experimenting with dual training and combining learning and working in new ways. Since many students of ethnic minorities and lower income groups are entering HBOs with MBO diplomas, more is being done to prepare MBO students for HBO programs. HBO and MBO institutions are working together to condense course requirements and facilitate enrollment by minority students.

University Education: There are thirteen universities in the Netherlands with 169,000 students attending in 1997. Universities combine scientific research with academics that distinguishes them from higher professional education. Increasingly, however, graduates of universities compete with HBO graduates in the professional world.

Three Dutch universities focus on technology: Delft University of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology, and the University of Twente. There is one agricultural university, Wageningen Agricultural University, whereas the University of Utrecht and the University of Leiden offer more general courses. Other universities are gradually known for either progressive teaching techniques or specific areas of study: The University of Amsterdam, University of Groningen, University of Maastricht, Erasmus University at Rotterdam, Free University of Amsterdam, University of Tilburg, and the University of Nijmegen.

Most courses at the universities last four years. However, some professions require longer initial periods of training. Doctors, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons, and dentists require six years of initial study; philosophers in a particular discipline, some engineers, and some agricultural scientists require five years of initial study. After completing the initial degree, students in all areas may continue studying towards a specialization, for research, or for a doctoral degree.

Universities are experimenting with new ways of combining working and learning, and they are attempting to make university programs more adaptable and practical. They are also examining and making changes to their administrative structure. To this end, the government allocated a substantial amount of money from 1996-1998 to fund projects to improve teaching and the quality and practicability of courses. One goal was to redesign courses to make it easier for students to complete programs within the desired time frame.

Admission to Higher Education: Students who have senior general secondary education (HAVO) diplomas or senior secondary vocational education (MBO) diplomas are eligible for admission to HBO institutions. Students are eligible to enter a university if they hold VWO certificates or HBO propaedeutic certificates which are conferred at the end of the first year of HBO courses. In some cases there are additional requirements of specific courses that must be completed at the secondary education level to be admitted to the university. Exceptions exist for applicants aged twenty-one or older who do not possess the required VWO or HBO qualifications. These applicants may be admitted to university courses if they pass a viva voce entrance examination.

For medicine, dentistry, and veterinary science, the government imposes a numerus fixus (quota) to restrict the number of first-year students admitted to the programs each year. In these cases, from 1972-1999, students have been admitted through a weighted lottery draw with a higher average VWO examination grade generally giving applicants a better chance of obtaining a place. This system was debated for years, and in 1999, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science accepted a new system which will guarantee students with high examination grades and grade point averages admission to medical studies. Interestingly, the Netherlands is undergoing a shortage of doctors, and the maximum number of medical students accepted will be increased from 2001-2004. There is some discussion of eliminating the numerus fixus system entirely.

Degree System: University graduates may use one of the following academic titles: ingenieur, doctorandus, or meester, depending on the type of degree (ingenieur for more technical degrees, meester for law, doctorandus for the rest). After further study towards a doctorate and completing a thesis, graduates may use the title "doctor."

Beginning in 2002, the Netherlands will introduce a Bama or Anglo-Saxon degree system where graduates may use the title of "bachelor" or "master" in addition to the Dutch doctorandus. This will be done to adapt the Dutch university system to a single European system that will be used in twenty-nine European Union countries. Students who choose the new degree system will be required to study for at least three years for a bachelor degree and at least an additional year for a master's degree, so there will be some curricular changes as well. HBO institutions will be allowed to offer master's programs, but most likely, the government will not fund these.

Accreditation: In addition to adopting the degree system of the European Union, the Netherlands will also initiate an accreditation system in 2002 to certify all universities and higher professional education programs. Educational institutions will need to reapply for accreditation every five years. This will make international recognition of higher education programs easier, and it will enable students to compare the quality of Dutch programs to other European programs.

Student Finance: Most higher education courses last four years during which all students are entitled to a basic grant. In September 1997, the basic grant was set at NLG 125 a month for students living at home and NLG 425 for students living away from home. In addition, students may take out loans of up to NLG 372.92 a month. Depending on parental income, students can apply for a supplementary grant of up to NLG 395.53 a month if living at home or up to NLG 430.53 a month if living away from home. If students need more time to complete their courses, they may take out loans for three more years. If students are in courses that require more than four years of initial study, they are eligible for loans for a longer period.

Grants are awarded to students depending upon performance according to a "loan then grant" principle. Initially students receive grants as loans, which are converted to non-repayable grants if they meet the performance criteria. To keep grants non-repayable the first year of study, students must obtain 50 percent of the available credits (21 out of 42). Similar criteria exist for the second, third and fourth years of study, and all loans eventually become non-repayable if the student graduates within four years. Students are allowed six years to complete a four-year course, but they must finance themselves during the additional two years. In 2002, the time allowed to finish a degree will be increased to ten years. Student loans must be repaid within fifteen years of graduation, but only if the borrower can afford to do so. Those on low incomes do not need to pay back much, and any outstanding debt is cancelled at the end of fifteen years.

Foreign Students & Students Abroad: As in all areas of education in the Netherlands, internationalization of higher education is a priority. To that end, the government promotes international exchanges of teachers and students. In 1998-1999, almost 27 percent of higher education graduates had had experience abroad. Six thousand of these higher education students studied on scholarships, and the United Kingdom was the most popular country for foreign study. During the same year, seven thousand foreign students studied in the Netherlands. Most of these students came from other European Union countries.

As of the 2003 academic year, Dutch students will be able to enroll in foreign universities and retain their student grant or loan. They will not need to be enrolled in a Dutch university at the same time. This is part of the "Education without Frontiers" policy created to make education finance more flexible for Dutch students. Students will need to verify that the foreign institution and program is of equivalent quality to their Dutch university program. Initially programs in other European Union countries will be eligible, but eventually programs in the United States, Australia and Canada and other countries should be eligible.

In addition to studying abroad, a unique international cooperative effort began in January 2001, when the education ministers of the Netherlands and Flanders signed a treaty to create the Transnational University Limburg. The University of Maastricht and the Limburg University Center in Flanders will combine their teaching and academic research programs in the new university. Dutch or Flemish students will receive dual degrees that are recognized in their respective countries, but the new university will be structured according to the Bama bachelor/master system.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceNetherlands - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education